OOIDA Tells the D.C. Circuit Court that Truckers Need 30-Minute Rest Break Flexibility to Do Their Jobs Safely

 

The Cullen Law Firm PLLC has filed a brief on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. (OOIDA) in support of FMCSA’s latest changes to the hours-of-service rules that gave drivers more flexibility to comply with the 30-minute rest break and that expanded the scope of the short-haul exemption. OOIDA intervened in the legal challenge to these changes filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit by two public interest groups[1] and the Teamsters. OOIDA argued that these common-sense updates to the HOS rules are rational and supported by the regulatory record and should stay in place.

FMCSA’s rule changes

In early 2018, OOIDA petitioned FMCSA to increase the flexibility of the hours-of-service rules, particularly with respect to the 30-minute rest break requirement. Thereafter, FMCSA initiated a rulemaking, eventually enacting 4 changes to the hours-of-service rules effective June 1, 2020:

  1. Expanding the short-haul exception by extending the maximum duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the applicable radius from 100 to 150 air miles;
  2. Modifying the 30-minute rest break to allow drivers to take the break on duty and starting the 8-hour clock when the driver starts driving rather than when the driver starts the workday;
  3. Changing the adverse driving conditions exception so that the exception can be invoked based on the driver’s (rather than only the dispatcher’s) knowledge and extending the driving window by up to 2 hours when the exception is invoked; and
  4. Allowing drivers to split the 10-hour sleeper berth period into two periods of at least 2 hours and 7 hours.

Although these changes do not ease all of the time pressures faced by small business truckers (and do not include the ideal changes originally requested by OOIDA—that the 30-minute break requirement be removed and that drivers be allowed to use an off-duty break to stop the 14-hour clock), they do allow drivers to make better use of their downtime and give drivers increased flexibility in planning their days.

The Advocates’ challenge and OOIDA’s response

The safety groups and the Teamsters (the “Advocates”) petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for review, challenging two of the changes. Pointing primarily to general safety and fatigue concerns (as well as the agency’s interpretation of various studies), the Advocates took issue with FMCSA’s changes to the 30-minute rest break changes and the changes to the short-haul exemption. The Advocates argued that working, not just driving, fatigues drivers; thus, drivers must take 30-minute breaks off duty. FMCSA, however, pointed to evidence that any break from driving offers substantial fatigue-related benefits, whether on- or off-duty.

OOIDA intervened to support the rule changes and informed the court that drivers’ workdays naturally contain numerous breaks from driving—including stops for routine maintenance, fuel, food, and waiting to load/unload. Requiring drivers to take an off-duty break in addition to these existing driving breaks puts unnecessary pressure on drivers to stop before they are tired and at unsafe times or locations. The new rule better takes into account the realities of drivers’ daily lives but still requires drivers to stop driving after eight continuous hours.

The Advocates also argued that allowing drivers to take their break on duty will extend their workdays by those 30 minutes. OOIDA explained to the court, however, that the vast majority of drivers work fewer than 13.5 hours per day,[2] meaning their workdays will not be extended by the change. And, indeed, requiring 30 minutes’ of off-duty time actually extended many drivers’ days. For example, in a day where a driver has 12.5 hours of work which includes 30 minutes’ worth of paperwork, requiring 30 minutes of off-duty time forces the driver to spend 13 hours (or more) to complete 12.5 hours of work.

The Advocates also took issue with FMCSA’s expansion of the short-haul exemption, relying primarily on the idea that driving later in the workday (as a result of an extension of the day from 12 to 14 hours) leads to increased accidents and that a longer day means more short-haul drivers will exceed the 11-hour driving limit. But FMCSA pointed out that drive time, rather than on-duty time, is the primary factor in driver fatigue, and the changes don’t increase the maximum allowed driving time for short-haul drivers.

OOIDA further explained that there was no evidence in the record demonstrating that any significant portion of short-haul drivers come anywhere close to the driving limits, especially when one considers the nature of a short-haul driver’s workday (which often include 20-25 stops).

OOIDA tells real truckers’ side of the story

OOIDA’s participation in the Advocates’ challenge ensures that the court understands the real-world impacts of the hours-of-service rules on actual commercial truckers, especially when FMCSA enacts rules with the potential to help truckers by increasing flexibility in the workday.

Attorneys Paul D. Cullen, Jr. and Charles R. Stinson from the Cullen Law Firm submitted the brief on behalf of OOIDA. The full text of OOIDA’s filing can be found here.

The parties have completed briefing this matter (Advocates’ opening and reply briefs; FMCSA’s response brief), and the case will be argued in person on April 25, 2022.

 

[1] Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways; and Parents Against Tired Truckers

[2] FMCSA estimated that only 5.6% of drivers work 13.3 hours or more per day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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