Appellate Court Upholds Rule Allowing Longer Hours for Commercial Drivers

A federal appellate court on Tuesday upheld rules adopted during the Trump administration that allowed commercial drivers engaged in local deliveries to drive farther and for longer times.

A panel of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia denied a petition filed by traffic safety groups and a labor union to review a rules change by the Federal Motor Carrier Administration that affects “short-haul drivers,” who are exempt from regulations. that requires them to take 30-minute rest breaks and use electronic logging devices.

The appellate court said the agency’s rule change was “reasonable” and had been “reasonably explained,” as required by the Administrative Procedures Act.

“While aspects of the administration’s analysis and reasoning leave much to be desired, at bottom, the administration sufficiently explained and factually justified its conclusions that the new short-haul exemption and the 30-minute break requirement would not adversely affect safety, driver health, or regulatory compliance,” the opinion says.

The FMCA adopted a final rule in June 2020 that extended the maximum radius from home for short haul drivers to 150 miles from 100. The agency also stretched the maximum length of short-haul drivers’ workday to 14 hours from 12. It increased the maximum amount of time allowed for driving each day to 11 from 10.

In addition, the agency narrowed the minimum break period that is required for long-haul drivers. Under the new rule, drivers can spend their 30-minute break while working on tasks such as loading or unloading, but cannot drive.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers petitioned for court review, arguing that the FMCA had not shown the rules change would have no negative impact on collision risk or driver safety.

The Teamsters argued that the longer hours allowed by the new rules will increase pressure on drivers not to take breaks and increase fatigue. The safety advocates argued that the expansion of the short-haul category along with the increase in hours of service allowed would increase collision risks.

The appellate panel, however, said the FMCA “reasonably relied” on a study of concrete-mixer trucks that examined changes in crash rates after Congress increased from 12 to 14 hours the time drivers could be on duty and still qualify for the short-haul exemption. The agency said the study found that there was no increase in increase in crash rates “at later hours of the day” and there was no significant change in crash rates for the two years after the expanded working hours were allowed, the opinion says.

The safety advocates disputed the government’s analysis of the data, and also argued that the FMCA ignored a 2017 study of interstate carriers based in North Carolina that found drivers operating under the short-haul exception had a crash rate 383% higher than drivers who are not exempt from the hours of service and electronic logging device rules.

The appellate panel said the North Carolina was based on a very small sample size and was not nationally representative.

The traffic safety advocates similarly argued that the FMCA could not support its finding that the expansion of the short-haul category would not damage the health of commercial drivers, citing data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that found associations between longer working hours with injuries and illness.

The appellate panel said the groups did not show that the agency’s rule change was arbitrary and capricious, as is required to overturn a rule.

“At bottom, the administration’s finding of no adverse health effect involved a reasonable weighing of many factors, including empirical studies and on-the-ground experience in related areas,” the opinion says. “While the administration’s reasoning was underwhelming in certain respects, it gets across the arbitrary and capricious line.”

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