DC Circuit Upholds Most New Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers – American Trucking Associations v. FMCSA

By August 16, 2013 July 10th, 2019 Trucking Regulations

I’ve written here several times about the ongoing litigation between the trucking industry and trucking’s federal regulator, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Trucking industry group American Trucking Associations has sued the FMCSA over its new hours of service rules that restrict the times when drivers may drive. The FMCSA says its rules are intended to reduce fatigue among truck drivers and therefore prevent crashes, which I know, as a Missouri tractor-trailer accident attorney, are often fatal for the people in smaller cars and trucks around the semi trucks. But the ATA argues that these rules go too far and don’t make anyone safer, while watchdog group Public Citizen argues that they don’t go far enough. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed most of the rules Aug. 2 in ATA v. FMCSA, but did vacate a 30-minute break rule for short-haul truck drivers.
The background of this litigation starts with 1999 Congressional act, made into new regulations by the FMCSA in 2003. In prior litigation, the D.C. Circuit vacated the 2003 rules and a 2005 replacement as arbitrary and capricious. After a third round of lawsuits was filed over 2008 rules, the FMCSA undertook a more responsive rule-making process, culminating with the 2011 rules that are now before the court. They require a 34-hour “restart” that functions as a floating weekend for truck drivers, must include two nights and can only be used once a week; and a 30-minute break before a driver may drive for longer than 8 hours. The ATA’s ensuing challenge said the rules are onerous, not flexible enough and unrelated to safety. Public Citizen’s separate challenge said the rules are not strict enough to keep the public safe.
After finding no standing for Public Citizen on the 34-hour restart provision, the court considered ATA’s arguments about it. “The math is byzantine,” the court said, but it is possible to abuse the 34-hour restart to maximize number of driving hours per week. Because the FMCSA discovered this during hearings on its previous proposals, it was not arbitrary to add the once-a-week provision, the D.C. Circuit said. ATA challenged the two-night provision as less safe for drivers who routinely drive nights and sleep days, but the FMCSA never gave circadian rhythm top priority, the court said, and cited a 2010 study showing that the two-night provision works best. Public Citizen’s challenge to the 11-hour driving limit, up from 10 hours, were considered by the court, but the court ultimately decided that FMCSA made the rule with an appropriate, consistent cost-benefit analysis. But it did reverse the 30-minute break rule as to short-haul drivers, noting that their jobs are very different, they are rarely in fatigue-related accidents and their rules have historically been different.
The opinion noted that this is the third time the FMCSA HOS rules have been to the D.C. Circuit, and as a St. Louis semi truck accident lawyer, I hope this is the last. A response to the Congressional request for new trucking rules has now been delayed for more than a decade. During that time, fatal accidents involving large commercial trucks have claimed 3,000 to 5,000 victims per year. Tens of thousands more per year suffer injuries, some of which are permanently disabling. If rules intended to prevent fatigue can address these injuries, I believe we should make them with much more haste. In my work as a southern Illinois big rig accident attorney, I know that these accidents are physically and emotionally devastating for victims, and often plunge them into financial uncertainty that I help address with a lawsuit against the careless people who caused the crash.


If your family has suffered a catastrophic injury because of a truck driver’s or trucking company’s negligence, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe. We focus our practice on accidents with large trucks in southern Illinois and throughout Missouri. For a free consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us an email.
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Regulators Refuse to Delay New Trucker Hours of Service Rule as Dispute Goes to Court