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  • Larry Thomas

Court Hears Trucking Lawsuit

HIGH POINT - A three-judge panel heard oral arguments last week in a pair of lawsuits challenging the controversial "hours of service" rules for truckers that are scheduled to take effect July 1.
     Attorneys for the American Trucking Assns., which spearheaded one of the suits, said the costs far outweigh the benefits of some of the new rules, and would do little if anything to improve highway safety.
     In arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia, the ATA said that the rules, which were announced in December 2011 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, were developed after a faulty analysis of data on fatal accidents involving trucks.
    The trucking group contended, among other things, that the analysis vastly overstated the number of fatal accidents that were caused by driver fatigue.
     The group also argued that the FMCSA improperly assumed there was an increased mortality risk for any driver who didn't get exactly seven hours of sleep.
   The most controversial of the new rules is the FMSCA's proposed revision of the socalled 34-hour restart requirement.
     The restart requirement means that, once a driver has been on duty for 60 hours in a 7-day period, he must be off duty for 34 consecutive hours in order to "restart" his work week. That rule has been in effect for years, but the FMSCA proposal says the 34 hours must now include two consecutive periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
     The federal agency says the new rule would reduce driver fatigue, but the trucking association suit says there's no evidence to support that argument.
   The trucking group contends that the new rule, in addition to having little or no impact in safety, would hurt productivity by actually requiring a driver to be off duty more than 34 hours.
     Depending on when the driver's off duty period started, the group says it could add as much as 17 hours to the required off duty time in order to insure that it included two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
     Another point of contention in the hours of service dispute is a new requirement for drivers to take a 30-minute off-duty rest break for every 8 hours of driving on a single day. Breaks for meals or naps are considered off-duty time, but doing paperwork, truck maintenance or any other work-related activities does not meet the requirement.
    In arguments before the appeals court, the trucking association said the FMCSA did not demonstrate any statistically significant difference in the safety benefit of an offduty break versus an on-duty break from driving.
    In February, the ATA asked the federal agency for a threemonth delay in implementing the new rules so the lawsuits can be resolved. The FMSCA, however, refused the request and said it was moving ahead with the July 1 start date.
     The ATA says the trucking industry will have to spend about $320 million before July 1 on driving training, reprogramming logistics software and related transition costs.
      Others in the supply chain such as shippers will incur transition costs, as will state enforcement agencies, the trucking group said.
    "If the court agrees, in whole or in part, with ATA that the rule changes at issue must be rejected, those expenditures will have been irrecoverably squandered," the association said in a statement denouncing the agency's position.
     A second lawsuit filed by three public safety groups - Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition - asks the FMSCA to restrict truckers to 10 hours of driving per day. The federal agency wants to leave the current rule of 11 hours per day in place, a policy that is supported by ATA.

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