Hours Restart

Hours Restart

Does the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration get a restart provision in its rulemaking on hours of service?

From a shipping perspective, an optimistic reading of a federal court's evisceration of trucking hours of service rules last year gave the truckers and shippers a new opportunity to shape duty time regulations to fit industry needs. Now, the FMCSA is appealing to those optimists.

In what appears to be the regulatory equivalent of throwing up its hands, the agency is asking the trucking industry and its customers to do what it did not do when it issued new rules on how long drivers could work and stay on the road. The FMCSA is asking industry itself to provide the information, the data, the support and the analysis on exactly how the driving rules it implemented a year ago are affecting driver health and highway safety.

That's an unusual maneuver by an agency charged with regulating an industry, although it's not exactly unprecedented: pharmaceutical regulators shift gears on drugs, after all, when new information comes in from real-world use. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does the same thing (although we don't want to be the ones to bring OSHA into a discussion of driver health and safety).

But the FMCSA certainly is using about as narrow a reading as we can imagine of what was, after all, a scathing court opinion, one that labeled the agency's rules "arbitrary and capricious." Supporting a complaint that teamed Public Citizen together with the Teamsters, three judges across the political spectrum went from sarcastic (they cited the dictionary definition of "deal with" in a description of one instruction) to bizarre. It quotes, after all, the song "Six Days on the Road" - "Well I'm a little overweight and my log books are way behind."

After almost a decade of trying to get a new hours of service rule, the government is putting the question in the industry's court. Shippers and carriers ignore the call at their peril.

As John Bagileo, general counsel for the Intermodal Association of America who also represents the SMC3 trucking industry rate bureau and technology business, put it: "Public Citizen is not going to be content to have the old rules reinstated. It's extremely important that the industry make itself heard on this."

They certainly will, and truckers and shippers alike can be certain that Public Citizen will not be filing unformed anecdotes and quoting country music. The watchdog group will come outfitted with hard data and studies that show that driving a truck will - and we're taking a guess here - make you tired.

It's up to trucking companies and their customers to show that it doesn't make you unsafe.