The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) has openly criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for rejecting the trucking lobby’s request that the agency delay implementation of its new hours-of-service (HOS) rule.

That rule is set to take effect on July 1st, pending a decision by the Washington DC circuit court on the merits of a petition by ATA and other trucking interests to have the rule overturned. Oral arguments before the court are slated to begin on March 15th.

The request to delay implementing the HOS rule was made via a Jan. 25th letter from ATA president & CEO Bill Graves to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “The requested delay will avoid potentially duplicative and unnecessary training, prevent confusion if the court’s decision alters in any manner the final rule, and, given the anticipated short length of the delay, will have no measureable impact on highway safety,” Graves wrote.

A reply to ATA came in a letter dated Feb. 22nd from FMCSA Chief Counsel T.F. Scott Darling III to Graves that stated the agency had “determined that staying the compliance date of the rule is not warranted.”

“Mere uncertainty over the possible outcome of the litigation, which you recognize is a matter over which the parties differ, does not create a likelihood that the industry or the enforcement community will suffer due to wasted training resources or confusion,” Darling wrote to Graves.  “Moreover, the agency is unwilling to sacrifice what may be several months of public safety benefits from the timely implementation of the rule.” 

In a scathing reply letter to FMCSA, dated Feb. 27th,  ATA general counsel Prasad Sharma contended that “rather than giving ATA’s request its natural reading, FMCSA contrived an analysis under an inapplicable test to critique the sufficiency of ATA’s request.”

According to Sharma, the rejection will be costly for trucking the industry as well as the enforcement community-- if indeed the court rejects any of the challenged provisions of the rule.

“Despite a record of adverse decisions in past hours-of-service litigation,” Sharma wrote, “FMCSA is willing to risk wasting significant training resources – some of it taxpayer money used to train both agency staff and the state enforcement community.”

Based on the agency’s own estimate of the time necessary to train drivers on the new rule, along with software reprogramming and related transition costs published by FMCSA, according to ATA, trucking alone will spend $320 million between now and July 1st.

What’s more, stated ATA, that figure does not include the costs to shippers, receivers and others in the supply chain. In addition, the trucking lobby pointed out that state enforcement agencies will have to spend taxpayer money to adapt to the rule changes.

“If the court agrees, in whole or in part, with ATA that the rule changes at issue must be rejected, those expenditures will have been irrecoverably squandered,” stated ATA.

“At a time of rising diesel prices, increased equipment and labor costs, the decision by the head of FMCSA to reject a reasonable request for a brief delay in enforcing this rule is unbelievable,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves remarked in a statement.

If fully implemented after the court decision, the HOS changes would restrict how drivers can use the optional 34-hour restart to reset their weekly driving limits of 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days.

In addition, drivers will be able to use the restart only once every seven days-- and it must include two rest periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. And drivers will also have to take a 30-minute break before driving more than eight hours continuously.

In the lawsuit filed just over a year ago,  ATA had petitioned the federal court to review the FMCSA’s then newly published HOS rule on the grounds that the agency had “changed assumptions” that had gone into developing the rule.

“We regret that FMCSA and the Obama administration have put ATA and its member companies in a position to take this legal action,” ATA’s Graves said at the time.

“The law is clear about what steps FMCSA must undertake to change the rules and we cannot allow this rulemaking, which was fueled by changed assumptions and analyses that do not meet the required legal standards, to remain unchallenged,” he stated.