Victory For Truck Safety

Friday, July 16, 2004 Henry Jasny at 202-408-1711


Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Hours of Service
Rule for Truck Drivers

July 16, 2004. In a unanimous decision, a 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., today struck down the government hours of service (HOS) rule for truck drivers. Today's ruling is an important victory for highway safety and the public because the HOS rule - which limits the maximum hours of driving to ensure safety - allowed truck drivers to spend many more hours behind the wheel than under the previous rule, allowing drivers to become even more fatigued, and posing a safety danger to other motorists.

The decision came in a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen and a number of safety organizations, in which Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) and the Insurance Institute for Highway safety filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs. The Court ruled for the plaintiffs on all counts, vacating the entire rule that was issued in April, 2003, and went into effect earlier this year.

In its opinion, the Court first ruled that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) failed to consider the effect that longer working and driving hours permitted by the rule would have on the health and physical condition of truck drivers. The linchpin of Advocates' brief was that the agency ignored its legal duty to consider the impact of the HOS rule on the health and physical condition of truck drivers. Advocates argued that Congress specifically made the health of truck drivers a mandatory factor that had to be taken into account. The court agreed with Advocates that the agency's rule was arbitrary and capricious since it failed to consider this fundamental statutory factor.

Judith L. Stone, President of Advocates, stated that "The court's action is a victory for protecting truck drivers from being forced to operate very long hours without adequate sleep and rest. The rule would undermine the health of truck drivers and degrade safety on our nation's highways."

The Court went on to criticize the FMCSA for its flawed rulemaking on all the issues raised by the plaintiffs. It explicitly rejected the agency's attempt to justify longer driving shifts and many more cumulative hours of driving over a 7- or 8-day tour of duty. It found the FMCSA's benefit-cost analysis to be dubious because it attempted to "explain away" the fundamental issue of how increased time spent working and driving under the rule could be just as safe as fewer hours of work.

The court also rejected the agency's resurrection of split sleeping time for drivers who try to sleep in their trucks as unsupported and irrational, especially in light of the agency's previous proposed rule in 2000 arguing that solo drivers needed a single, uninterrupted off-duty period each day to get sufficient opportunities for adequate sleep and rest.

Finally, the court roundly criticized the FMCSA for having no good reason for backing away from its previous proposal to require electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), and from evading its statutory duty to evaluate seriously whether EOBRs should be required.

Stone added, "This ruling reassures us that public health and safety should always come first and must be the highest priority of government transportation officials."

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Click HERE to view Federal Appeals Court's Decision

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), an alliance of consumer, health and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America's roads safer, is actively involved at the federal and state levels to reduce the terrible tragedy of crashes to families across the nation. More information about the unfinished highway and auto safety agenda can be found on Advocates' web site,

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