Trucking industry challenge to hours of service changes unsuccessful

On July 1 of this year, new hours of service requirements, developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, went into effect. These new regulations, which specific the amount of time that commercial truck drivers can spend behind the wheel at any given time, were designed specifically to prevent truck driver fatigue, identified by the FMCSA as a leading cause of truck accidents.

Although the new hours of service regulations were praised by many traffic safety experts, they proved far less popular with those in the trucking industry, including both trucking companies and truck drivers themselves. After failing to stall the FMCSA's rulemaking process over the course of many months, one trucking industry group filed suit against the DOT in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Recently, a three judge panel rejected this final challenge, removing the last hurdle to the full implementation of the new hours of service rules.

The reason that these new hours of service rules were so unpopular among trucking companies and truck drivers was fear that they would impact the industry's bottom line. The rules specifically require drivers to take a break of at least 30 minutes during their first eight hours of driving each day and require them to have a 34-hour rest period each week. Trucking companies believe that this will impact their ability to deliver goods according to schedule, which in turn will cost them money. Truck drivers have also expressed concern that he weekly on-duty limit will prevent them from maintaining their current rate of pay.

At the heart of the recent suit brought by the American Trucking Associations, Incorporated was the process employed by the DOT in setting the requirements of the regulations. The ATA argued that regulators' decisions were arbitrary and were not supported by adequate scientific evidence. The Court of Appeals disagreed, however, and said that the DOT and FMCSA deserved deference in setting regulations for the trucking industry.

This recent ruling is significant because it ends a period of nearly 14 years of disagreement between the trucking industry and the federal government regarding restrictions on trucker drive time. Although the industry is convinced that these new rules will simply increase costs without impacting safety, traffic experts are waiting to see whether these restrictions will lead to fewer truck accidents in the U.S. Only time will tell, but many think they are a step in the right direction.