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Unhealthy Hours-of-Service Rules to Stay in Effect Just 90 Days; Court Ruling Supports Safety Groups

Oct. 1, 2007

Unhealthy Hours-of-Service Rules to Stay in Effect Just 90 Days; Court Ruling Supports Safety Groups

Statement of Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen President*

A court’s decision to let the current hours-of-service rules stand for just 90 more days supports the recommendations of safety groups determined to protect drivers and passengers alike on the nation’s highways.

Friday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is the latest twist in a long-running case in which Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and other groups are challenging the unsafe and unhealthy hours-of-service rule that the federal government first adopted in 2003.

The court struck down the 2003 regulation, then struck down a 2005 rule that mirrored the one the court had found untenable. That rule raised the consecutive driving limit from 10 hours to 11 hours and added a 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to significantly increase both their weekly driving and on-duty hours. Studies show that fatigued drivers are more likely to crash. The last thing we need is more tired truckers on the roads.

When striking down the 2005 rule this past July, the court said that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) reliance on a new fatigue model without first providing notice and the opportunity for public comment was improper. The court also faulted the agency for the way it treated the risk increase associated with 11 straight hours of driving, as well as for failing to deal with the added cumulative fatigue the 34-hour restart rule would cause by allowing more hours of driving per week.

On Sept. 6, the American Trucking Associations asked the court to let the unsafe and unhealthy rules stay in effect for eight months to give the government time to rewrite them; FMCSA asked for a year. We opposed any delay but argued that if there was one, it should be no more than 90 days, which the court agreed with.

The agency should use the time to oversee the transition to pre-2003 driving limits rather than continuing to insist on an hours-of-service scheme that endangers truck drivers and motorists.

*Joan Claybrook was administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1977-1981.