Owner-operators opposing Teamsters in HOS lawsuit

Small-business truckers want to make sure their voices are heard when a federal appeals court takes up a challenge to the recently amended hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) on Friday filed a “motion to intervene” with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in support of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is defending its rule changes from the challenge filed in September by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and three safety groups.

The Teamsters and the safety groups argue that FMCSA’s loosening of four HOS provisions — split sleeper-berth, 30-minute rest break, adverse driving conditions, and short-haul operations, which went into effect on Sept. 29 – will exacerbate driver fatigue and decrease safety.

The court challenge did not prevent the rule changes from going into effect, but if it is eventually successful the court could order that the rule be set aside, according to a lawyer for the group.

OOIDA countered in its filing that FMCSA’s changes “have significantly and positively impacted the interests of OOIDA’s members,” underscoring recent comments it filed with FMCSA on the rule changes.

“The final HOS rule will provide drivers more opportunities to rest when they are tired, to stay off the road during adverse driving conditions, and to maintain greater control over their own schedules,” OOIDA stated in an Aug. 3 letter to the agency. “As the rulemaking repeatedly makes clear, these HOS reforms will not increase available driving time. The changes will help reverse the rising crash rates highway users have experienced since the inception of existing HOS standards.”

Portion (in hours) of 14-hour driving/on duty clock that is actual driving time – daily average over last month.
Source: SONAR

The trucking group also asserted that its approximately 160,000 members “work and operate their vehicles under different contractual and commercial terms than do the drivers represented by the Petitioner International Brotherhood of Teamsters. OOIDA’s participation in this proceeding will, therefore, ensure the Court has a more complete perspective on the position of truck drivers” on the HOS rule changes.

The FMCSA has yet to weigh in on the challenge. Its final HOS rule, published in June, generated over 8,000 comments and made the following changes:

  • Increased flexibility in the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  • Modified the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split. Neither period will count against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window. 
  • Modified the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • Changed the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

In comments filed last year opposing the HOS changes, the Teamsters asserted that loosening restrictions on the short-haul exemption would decrease safety, particularly when higher demand for two-day shipping is taken into account.

“This new market coupled with the proliferation of mileage runs as a result of the burgeoning gig economy would most definitely ensure an increase in [vehicle miles traveled]” by commercial drivers, the union stated. “Thus, extending the driving window to 14 hours will further encourage shippers to increase … freight volume while having a stagnant effect on increasing staffing levels to maximize profits resulting in increased driver fatigue and elevated crash risk.”

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