Clock ticking on HOS rules
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is grappling with controversial hours-of-service rules as groups sue to force DOT action

Pressure is mounting on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to issue long-awaited HOS rules that contain contentious issues such as black boxes inside trucks, driver background checks and the number of hours truckers may drive without rest.

The agency told Land Line the rules should be available in February or March. The proposal is currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget. OMB can take up to 90 days to review the plan, and, even after the OMB review, legal challenges are expected.

Meanwhile, Public Citizen sued Nov. 26, 2002, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, to force DOT to promptly issue the rules.

“We are simply seeking an order telling DOT to obey the law,” said Marka Peterson, a lawyer with Public Citizen Litigation Group, which prepared the suit. “We are optimistic the federal court will agree with us because the DOT’s legal violations are so blatant.”

The lawsuit
Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Teamsters for a Democratic Union filed the suit. They say DOT has failed to issue the following rules, some of which are nine years overdue:

  • Minimum training requirements for drivers of multitrailer rigs. Congress set a Dec. 18, 1993, deadline for a final rule.
  • Minimum training standards for entry-level drivers of commercial motor vehicles. Congress required DOT to report on the effectiveness of private-sector training by Dec. 18, 1992, and to issue a final rule by Dec. 18, 1993. DOT submitted the report in February 1996 but never issued the rule.
  • Truckdriver fatigue and required rest periods, HOS and other fatigue-related issues. Congress directed DOT to issue a final rule by March 1, 1999.
  • Requirements for authorization to transport hazardous materials. DOT was required to issue this rule by Nov. 16, 1991, but has done nothing.
  • Background checks for new commercial drivers, including what information prospective employers are required to obtain and what information prior employers are required to provide. Congress ordered DOT to issue a rule first by Jan. 26, 1996, and then by Jan. 31, 1999, but DOT has taken no steps to issue this rule.
  • Requirements for more truck safety inspectors at international borders. DOT was ordered to issue this rule by Dec. 9, 2000.

OOIDA’s concerns
In comments on behalf of truckdrivers, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association asked DOT to take the following action:

Ten hours off-duty during each 24-hour period.
Ten hours per day off-duty will allow drivers more than sufficient time to get restorative sleep each day and will help drivers resist pressure from shippers, brokers and motor carriers to drive longer hours.

On-duty and off-duty time may be scheduled at the driver’s discretion.
It is impractical for FMCSA to propose a different rule for every type of trucking operation and truck-dependent industry. FMCSA can’t anticipate and provide for all factors that can influence a driver’s schedule: shipper and receiver practices, different length hauls, weather, traffic and road conditions, availability of parking spaces, etc. Drivers need flexibility to plan and react to the conditions they encounter in order to get the rest they need.

The FMCSA wants team drivers to split off-duty hours. If the FMCSA believes obtaining rest in a moving truck provides those drivers a sufficient opportunity for rest, OOIDA suggests it should be more than acceptable to allow solo drivers to split their off-duty hours. An individual driver gets significantly more restorative sleep in the cab of a parked truck or at a motel than does a team driver in a moving truck.

No maximum number on-duty hours or days in a week.
As long as drivers have the opportunity to get sufficient restorative sleep through a mandatory 10 hours off per day, it should be up to them how many days they work.

No mandatory off-duty weekends.
According to the research relied upon by the FMCSA in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), as long as a driver gets at least seven hours of sleep each day, he or she will not incur a sleep deficit. If a driver incurs no sleep deficit, there is no need to impose a mandatory “weekend” off.

No electronic onboard recording devices.
The proposed electronic on-board recorders are an invasion of a driver’s privacy. Furthermore, OOIDA is certain black boxes will be used by motor carriers to push drivers to drive every on-duty minute available to them and to punish those who don’t. A driver should be able to make the decision when it is in his or her best safety interest to pull over and get rest without harassment from motor carriers.

—by Dick Larsen, senior editor