FMCSA seeks Public Input on HOS
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it would host a series of public “listening sessions” over its intentions to modify again its often-challenged hours-of-service rule for commercial drivers. “Public input is critical to the rulemaking process,” FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said in a Jan. 4 statement announcing the sessions. “The public listening sessions will provide opportunities for a broad cross-section of stakeholders to present views, comments and relevant research on this forthcoming federal safety regulation proposal.” Industry and enforcement groups have said that uncertainty over — and changes to — the embattled rule, which federal courts have rejected three times over the past six years, could jeopardize effective enforcement.

FMCSA has said it intends to revise the latest rule by July.

The agency’s changes to the driving limits rule during the Bush administration increased the allowed driving time to 11 hours a day from 10 hours, while cutting the maximum time a driver could be on duty each day to 14 consecutive hours. The rule also allowed drivers to reset their weekly clocks after a 34-hour rest.

The first of the three planned sessions will be Jan. 19 in Arlington, Va., with the others scheduled for Dallas on Jan. 22; Los Angeles on Jan. 25; and Davenport, IA on Jan. 28 “at or very close to a truck stop and closer to the driving population.”

In its notice for the sessions, FMCSA provided a number of discussion questions on a variety of aspects of the rule, including whether the agency should mandate rest breaks during the working day, how drivers should be allowed to split their time in sleeper berths and how many hours “would be safe and healthy” for drivers to work.

In October, the Obama administration announced it had settled a lawsuit brought by a number of advocacy groups seeking to overturn the controversial hour limits. Public Citizen, along with the Truck Safety Coalition, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Teamsters union, had sued the agency, saying the revision was detrimental to safety. It was the third such suit the coalition had brought against FMCSA since 2003, when the agency finished the first major revision of the hours rule in more than 60 years.

A federal court ruled in 2004 that the agency failed to consider driver health and overturned the entire rule; in 2007 the same court said the agency failed to properly justify its hours limits, sending the rule back again for review. In 2008, FMCSA reissued the rule with no substantive changes, leading to the most recent lawsuit and subsequent settlement. That settlement requires FMCSA to submit to the White House Office of Management and Budget a new proposed rule by late July and to complete a new rule some time in 2011.

“It is pretty clear to me that FMCSA is taking the timeline very seriously, and while it’s going to be tough for them to complete their homework, I think they will probably do it,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs.
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