Lawyers at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and American Trucking Associations are sniping at each other over the start date of the new hours-of-service rule.

This week T.F. Scott Darling III, the chief counsel at FMCSA, rejected a request by ATA President and CEO Bill Graves to push back the July 1 date until three months after a federal appeals court weighs in on a challenge to the rule.

Graves’s contention was that the delay would make it easier to manage any changes that the court may require, and to complete personnel training.

Darling said ATA was really seeking a stay of the rule, in addition to the delay, and that the agency will not “sacrifice what may be several months of public safety benefits from the timely implementation of the rule.”

Yesterday Prasad Sharma, senior vice president and general counsel of ATA, said in a letter to Darling that the agency’s reasoning is contrived.

“Rather than logically treating ATA’s letter as a request to amend the final rule by changing the compliance date, you elected to treat it as a Motion to Stay before a court of law – which, of course (FMCSA) is not,” Sharma wrote.

He said ATA can only conclude that the agency sees no possibility that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will rule against the agency in the hours of service matter – even though it has in the past.

“As a result, FMCSA is willing to risk wasting significant training resources,” Sharma wrote.

“ATA and its members will not recklessly gamble on the anticipated outcome of litigation to be decided in the near future. As a result, the industry will prepare to comply with a rule that has a very reasonable chance of being different come July 1.”

At issue is a revised hours-of-service rule that is being challenged, on different grounds, by ATA and the victims advocacy group Public Citizen.

The court has scheduled oral arguments for March 15. It typically takes the court two to three months to rule following arguments, which means the decision could come as late as a month before the July 1 start date.

ATA says that much of the training for the new rule already is under way, but the industry and the enforcement community still will need three months to finish the job once they know what the final rule says.

In a press release yesterday the association said the trucking industry will spend $320 million between now and July 1 to prepare for the rule.

The enforcement community supports ATA’s position. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance also asked for a deadline extension, and its request was rejected along with ATA’s.