Trucking companies are eagerly awaiting the decision of the Washington D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether to stay the current HOS (hours of service rules) until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) can enact a revised HOS regulation.

It’s just another step into a nebulous regulatory limbo that the trucking industry is now faced with until FMCSA enacts definitive HOS rules— a process whose length the agency has yet to estimate. “There is no ETA at this time, as the agency would have to complete a literature search of driver health issues, and then follow the “trail” of research from there,” wrote FMCSA spokesman Bill MacLeod in an email to Fleet Owner.

Truckload carrier Contract Freighters, Inc. (CFI) is conducting business as usual for now. “We simply react to those [regulatory changes] as quickly as we know what the ground rules are,” Herb Schmidt, CFI president, told Fleet Owner.

There are no contingency plans in the works yet, Schmidt said. “We’re totally in a holding pattern, 100%-- it’d be like planning for the price of fuel. It [the HOS regs] will be quite some time, in my opinion, until we have anything that’s definitive.”

Whatever happens with HOS, Schmidt is determined to make sure that any productivity losses will be passed along to the shipper— not the company or its drivers. “One thing I know for sure is we’re going to keep our drivers whole. Whatever the cost ends up being, we’re not having the drivers bear the brunt of that, and nor will we,” Schmidt said. “Ultimately, you and I pay for it in the stores— that’s what it all boils down to.”

Whatever the outcome, Schmidt is hopeful that the Court will recognize the impact an abrupt change in HOS would result in. On Monday, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) filed a motion to the Court that warned against the negative impacts another change in HOS would cause.

“The trucking industry, shippers, and the law enforcement community simply cannot convert from one HOS regime to another without a lengthy transition period,” ATA stated in the motion. “A judicially imposed immediate conversion to the former HOS rules would cause rampant confusion and severe dislocation for these stakeholders.”

“The HOS changes have the potential to turn prices completely upside-down,” Schmidt cautioned. “If this industry loses productivity…if we have to add equipment, it could require us to add more trucks and drivers. The other carriers would have to do the same thing— that crowds the roads, creates more driver shortages, and impacts the environment. The economic impact of reduced productivity is tremendous and I hope the government truly does an economic impact study before they do another final rule.”