By Jami Jones
Five listening sessions and thousands of submitted comments later, truckers have delivered one clear message to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on hours of service: The rules must allow for flexibility.
Members of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and other truckers have taken an active role in the agency’s latest attempt to revamp the hours-of-service regulations. And the FMCSA leadership has taken notice.
In fact, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro made a point to recognize those efforts in her closing remarks at the fifth listening session at the Mid-America Trucking Show.
“I just want to commend the speakers that we’ve had today and at the past sessions,” she said.
“It’s not easy to be a public speaker, and I’m really impressed and very appreciative – we all are – for the courage that everybody has had to organize their thoughts and come forward with very coherent and helpful explanations and recommendations. It’s really commendable, so thank you for that.”
That listening session marked the final session planned by the agency to gather comments as it goes forward with formulating proposed HOS regs. The agency went back to the drawing board on the regulations as part of a settlement agreement reached by the agency and four groups that took the agency to court over the rules.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit signed off in early March on the proposed settlement submitted to the court in October by FMCSA and the four plaintiffs, which included Public Citizen.
The agreement, in short, was that FMCSA agreed to review the regulations and submit a notice of proposed rulemaking to the Office of Secretary of Transportation by June of this year. The agency promptly moved into an information-gathering mode and began holding public listening sessions to solicit input on the regulations.
In return Public Citizen and the other plaintiffs agreed to an “abeyance” – which is essentially a suspension of the lawsuit – pending FMCSA’s publication of the notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register.
The timeline set by the agency, as a result of the settlement, has the proposed rule being submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation in June.
Once the secretary’s office signs off on it, the proposal will then go to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for approval.
After all those hoops and hurdles are cleared, agency officials expect to give the public its first look at the proposal sometime in November.
The settlement agreement left the door open for further court action once the rule is published in the Federal Register.
Within 30 days of the proposed reg being published, the groups will file a joint motion with the D.C. Circuit Court that will “govern future proceedings.” LL
Associate Editor David Tanner contributed to this report.