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Status Report, Vol. 42, No. 10 | October 13, 2007 Subscribe

For the 2nd time, federal court tells FMCSA it failed

For the second time, federal court tells FMCSA it failed to set reasonable work hours for truck drivers. Back in 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued its first new work-hour rule for truckers in 40 years, but the rule was rejected by a federal appeals court. The agency tried again with a new rule in 2005, and again it was rejected.

The Institute and others have been going back and forth for years with FMCSA about the prevalence of tired truckers on the road and the effects of fatigue on crashes. The 2003 rule was expected to address the issue, but instead FMCSA actually increased rather than decreased daily and weekly driving limits. Public Citizen took the agency to court, not once but twice, and both times the Institute supported the challenges. Responding the first time around, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia called the 2003 work-hour rule "arbitrary and capricious," chastising FMCSA for its "questionable rationality" (see "Try again on rules on truck driving hours, appeals court tells FMSCA," Aug. 1, 2004). Congress subsequently intervened to allow the controversial rule to stand until the agency came up with a new regulation in 2005.

"The second rule wasn't a bit better than the first one," says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. The court struck down this rule, too, upholding Public Citizen on multiple complaints about the rule and FMCSA's justification for it. In issuing the rebuke in July 2007, the court said the agency "failed to provide an explanation for critical elements of [its] methodology and that it "cannot uphold a rule based on such a model when an important aspect of its methodology was wholly unexplained." The court explicitly refused to "supply a reasoned basis for the agency's actions that the agency itself has not given."

Anticipating what FMCSA will do now, McCartt says "it seems like a no-brainer to finally listen to the appeals court — and to listen sooner instead of later."

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