The federal government has agreed to start a new round of rulemaking on hours of service regulations.

Public Citizen today announced the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration agreed to revisit the rules to settle a lawsuit
brought by Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Today's settlement requires the government to draft a new proposed rule governing hours of service within nine months and to publish a final rule within 21 months.

In March 2009, the groups asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to throw out the hours-of-service rule for the third time. The rule, which took effect in 2003, has twice before been challenged in court by safety groups. The regulations were modified somewhat following the first challenge, but the revised rule was challenged again in 2005.

In July 2007, the court remanded the hours of service rules to FMCSA, ruling that the agency must provide better explanations of its justifications for adopting the controversial 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provisions. Many in the trucking industry interpreted that decision as "procedural," something the agency could fix fairly easily.

In December 2007, FMCSA announced that it was keeping the 11-hour and the 34-hour provisions in an Interim Final Rule. In January 2008, a federal appeals court denied Public Citizen's request to invalidate that interim rule. The final rule was unveiled late last year and went into effect in the final days of the Bush administration.

The safety groups argue that the rule "dramatically expanded driving and working hours by allowing truck drivers to drive up to 11 consecutive hours (instead of 10) each shift and by cutting the off-duty rest and recovery time at the end of the week from a full weekend of 50 or more hours to as little as 34 hours. ... As a result, the rule allowed truckers to spend up to 17 more hours driving each week than previously allowed, a more than 25 percent increase over the prior rule, despite strong evidence that the increased hours would lead to more traffic fatalities and serious consequences for driver health."

Earlier this year, the American Trucking Associations refuted these claims. In fact, ATA noted, the new hours of service rules reduced the maximum length of the truck driver's work day by at least one hour and increased the daily required number of hours of rest by two hours. The work day was shortened from a previous maximum of 15 hours (which could be extended by breaks) to no more than 14 consecutive hours. Drivers are required to rest at least 10 hours between shifts, with at least eight of those hours in the sleeper berth if it is used while on the road. Within the shorter work day, the rules allow 11 hours of driving instead of the previous 10.

"Another myth sowed by these groups is that the 34-hour restart allows significantly longer driving and on-duty times in a week than the pre-2004 rules," ATA said. FMCSA found that "longer hypothetical hours in driving and duty schedules" envisioned by critics "requires an imaginary world with nearly perfect logistics." In the real world, drivers have found that the 34-hour restart gives them more rest and time off, not less, said the association's statement.

Previous coverage:
"Safety Groups Challenge Hours of Service in Court Again," 3/10/2009
"ATA Counters Hours of Service Myths," 3/11/2009
"FMCSA Announces Final HOS Rule," 11/19/2008