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Status Report, Vol. 41, No. 7 | September 7, 2006 Subscribe

Truckers' driving hours are subject of more litigation

Federal rules about how many hours truck drivers should be allowed to work, how much rest should be required between shifts, and how to enforce the limits are back before federal judges. Contention about these issues goes back years, with this round of litigation dating to 2003 when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revamped the work-hour rules. The effect was to increase rather than decrease truckers' daily and weekly driving limits.

Resorting to strong language, a federal court struck down the rules, calling them "arbitrary and capricious" and chastising FMCSA for "questionable rationality" (see "Try again on rules on truck driving hours, appeals court tells FMSCA," Aug. 1, 2004). However, Congress allowed the agency to keep in place the rules the court had struck down until new rules could be issued — and when they were they reflected minimal changes.

Now Public Citizen, the group that successfully challenged FMCSA in court before, has taken the agency back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. In July the Institute filed a brief in support of Public Citizen, and the language reflects the frustration of Institute staff at FMCSA's obfuscatory response to the problem of truck crashes involving drivers who have worked too many hours with too little rest.

Citing FMCSA's own estimate that fatigue is a factor in 15 percent of truck crashes involving deaths and injuries, the Institute told the court that the agency "has breached its duty to the public." FMCSA "ignored competent research [on the hazards associated with driving while fatigued] and relied on its own unsound analysis" to justify increasing allowable driving hours by 28 percent in a trucker's work week.

The Institute's brief targets the so-called restart provision, introduced in the 2003 rules, that allows truckers to drive up to 88 hours in an 8-day period. The Institute told the court this "ignores studies showing that drivers who report working longer than 60-70 hours . . . were about 80 percent more likely to report falling asleep while driving."

The Institute has supplied FMCSA with detailed survey results indicating an increase in fatigued driving since truckers began using the restart provision. So well documented are the risks associated with driving while fatigued (see "Truck driver fatigue isn't falling under rule in effect since 2004," July 16, 2005) that the Institute told the court there's only one outcome of the agency's current policy on driving hours — more truck crashes. The Institute has gone back and forth with FMCSA for years, trying to convince regulators to limit truckers to reasonable hours and ensure they get enough rest. So far this hasn't happened. FMCSA's "indifference to reports of drivers actually dozing while at the wheel speaks for itself," the Institute told the court.

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