Safety advocates considering HOS rules challenge

Two of the safety groups that have been most vocal in opposing the hours-of-service (HOS) changes since they were first proposed in 2018 were still considering on Thursday whether to challenge them immediately after they were rolled out in final form.

The public has 30 days to file a petition for reconsideration with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) after the final rule is published in the Federal Register.

“We’re still going through the [232 pages] with a fine-tooth comb, and once we do that we’ll review all our options,” Peter Kurdock, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told FreightWaves.

Joan Claybrook, who chairs Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), which is part of the Truck Safety Coalition, was also hesitant to confirm a next step. “I don’t know if we’re going to file a petition to do that or not. We’re still looking at it,” Claybrook told FreightWaves. Claybrook, a former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) administrator, was deeply involved in federal court challenges to the HOS rules during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.

“We have to see what the litigators think is possible. These are heavy-duty cases to take on. Public Citizen’s lawyers handled the cases in the early 2000s, and it occupied one lawyer almost full time. That’s very costly for a small public-interest organization.”

As was the case when the HOS rules were challenged between 2003 and 2009, the biggest concern among safety advocates about the latest changes centers around driver fatigue.

“For years the safety community, including the [National Transportation Safety Board] have provided studies revealing that fatigue is a real problem, and a contributing factor in too many truck crashes,” Kurdock said, pointing to data released recently by NHTSA showing deaths from large truck crashes are estimated to increase by 1%.

“Crashes continue to go up, and it’s made worse when you have the added issue of drivers already risking their lives by being on the front line of this pandemic, along with first responders and hospital workers. This is a particularly bad time to make their job even more dangerous than it already is.”

The FMCSA determined that the final rule will not adversely affect driver fatigue levels or safety. Kurdock and Claybrook both contend that by allowing the 30-minute rest break to be satisfied by on-duty rather than off-duty status, for example, or by extending by another two hours the amount of time allowed for adverse driving conditions, carriers will push driver fatigue — and safety risks — higher.

“This is another giveaway from the Trump Administration to the business community,” Claybrook said. “Essentially what they’ve done is eliminated the rest period,” she added, referring to the new 30-minute break rule. “I hope [a driver] has a good bladder. It’s cruel. Wherever they could, they extended the working demands on the drivers.”

Labor railed against the changes as well, citing the new rest break provision as well as the change to the short-haul exception, which lengthens the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extends distance limits from 100 to 150 air miles.

“In an effort to increase so-called ‘flexibility’ for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “Trucking is already one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs. We shouldn’t be sacrificing the health and safety of drivers just to pad the profits of their big business bosses.”