Court upholds HOS rules, sigh of relief for trucking safety advocates

The federal agency known as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation that regulates and enforces safety regulations relating to commercial carriers, is in charge of implementing rules relating to the trucking industry.

Among these regulations are hours-of-service, or HOS rules, that mandate driving hours and rest breaks of commercial truck, bus and motor carrier drivers. The rules are geared toward helping to increase road safety and mitigate trucking accidents.

To keep on top of trends and changes, the FMCSA periodically reassesses the HOS rules and proposes amendments. The most recent amendments were finalized and published in December 2011 and took effect July of this year.

However, the American Trucking Association, known as the ATA, and others in the trucking industry, indicated that the rules were arbitrary and baseless and insufficient data was available to support such stricter amendments. They took proactive measures to stop the rules from taking effect and filed a lawsuit in March 2013 ( American Trucking Association Inc. v. FMCSA).

Those affected anxiously awaited a decision from the court. As the clock ticked toward the July 1 deadline, there still was no ruling. Finally, last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia issued a decision.

Court upholds majority of HOS rules

The court ruling upheld most of the rules and indicated that no merit existed to challenge the intentions of the FMCSA. However, the court struck down one main provision of the amendments relating to rest breaks.

The initial FMCSA rule on rest breaks mandated that all drivers take at least a 30 minute rest period after every 8 hours of driving. But, the panel struck down this requirement for short haulers transporting goods within a 100 mile air radius. The court upheld the rule, however, for all other drivers.

Decision a win for road safety advocates

The court decision is a win for trucking safety advocates. Amid the distracted driving epidemic and increase in driver fatigue accidents all across the U.S., many argue that these rules are more important than ever in reducing trucking accidents. The sheer size of 18-wheelers today pose too much of a risk to passengers in smaller vehicles.

A report released from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety from 2010, indicates that there are about 500,000 trucking accidents that occur nationwide every year and approximately 72 percent of fatalities that arise from these accidents are passengers in other vehicles.