In a stunning reversal of efforts to revamp federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations governing the working time of commercial truck drivers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has struck down the 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provisions of the HOS rules that were put in place over three years ago.

“We grant the petition filed by Public Citizen … and conclude that the [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it failed to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the methodology of the crash-risk model that the agency used to justify an increase in the maximum number of daily and weekly hours that truck drivers may drive and work,” said Chief Justice Merrick Garland in the court’s written opinion.

“We also find that the agency failed to provide an explanation for critical elements of that methodology,” Garland added.

Both Public Citizen and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed suit against FMCSA last year seeking to throw out the current rules, with the case being argued before the court on December 4. While the court granted Public Citizen’s motion to throw out the 11-hour drive time and 34-hour restart provision, it did not grant OOIDA’s petition to restore more flexible split-sleeper berth rules.

“OOIDA specifically objects to FMCSA’s decision that the 2-hour break used to qualify (in part) for the sleeper-birth exception to the daily off-duty requirement may not be used to extend the 14-hour daily on-duty limit … and contends that this aspect of the rule discourages drivers from taking breaks during their remaining 12 hours of eligible drive time,” the court said.

“But FMCSA based the modification of the sleeper-berth exception not on concerns about driver health but rather on its well-supported finding that the 8-hour requirement would reduce fatigue-related accidents,” the opinion added. “For the foregoing reasons, we deny OOIDA’s petition.”

FMCSA now has 45 days to petition the court for reconsideration. Such requests are rarely granted and if the court refuses, the original order takes effect within seven days of that refusal. FMCSA has already released a statement saying: "We are analyzing the decision issued today to understand the court's findings as well as determine the agency's next steps to prevent driver fatigue, ensure safe and efficient motor carrier operations and save lives. This decision does not go into effect until September 14, unless the court orders otherwise."

Anyone involved in the case can also seek a stay of the court order, which would keep the current HOS provisions in place pending further action by FMCSA or possible Congressional action. The American Trucking Assns. has already signaled its intentions to request a court stay that would allow the 11-hour daily drive time and 34-hour restart provisions to remain in place until the agency can reevaluate the regulations.

To view the court's decision, go to: (.pdf).