The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union and safety advocacy groups challenged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s successful defense of changes to the trucking hours-of-service (HOS) regulations implemented two years ago, claiming the changes increased accident risks and made the roadways less safe.
The union and three advocacy groups – Parents Against Tired Truckers, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety – argued in a petition filed in December last year that FMCSA’s final rule incorporating four HOS changes issued in May 2020 was “arbitrary and capricious” because it failed to address safety and consequences on driver’s health. The short-haul exemption and the requirement for the 30-minute rest break were the two of the four modifications on which the groups had mainly centered on.
FMCSA 30-Minute Break Rule Modifications
On December 27, 2011, the FMCSA first implemented the 30-minute break requirement. The FMCSA released the updated HOS standards, which now include the 30-minute rest requirement, on June 1, 2020.
On September 29, 2020, the new FMCSA 30-minute break rule went into effect. The guidelines in this amended regulation are being followed by qualified motor carriers and drivers.
The Old and New 30-Minute Break Rules – Their Differences
- Old Rule – After eight hours on duty, drivers were required to take a break that lasted for 30 minutes straight.
- New Rule – Drivers are now only required to take a 30-minute break after eight hours of continuous driving.
After eight hours of driving, drivers are not permitted to resume driving until after a rest of 30 minutes. They can, however, do other non-driving work.
By requiring a break after eight hours of nonstop driving and enabling the break to be met by a driver using “on-duty, not driving” status rather than “off-duty,” the final HOS rule, according to FMCSA, provides greater flexibility for the 30-minute rest break rule.
The final amendment to the previous HOS rule also changed the short-haul exception that was granted to some drivers by increasing their maximum on-duty time from 12 to 14 hours and the maximum distance they could operate within 100 to 150 air miles.
The short-haul exception makes it possible for more drivers to benefit from lowered record-keeping standards, which include an exclusion on the deployment of electronic logging devices (ELDs). According to the panel, it also exempts such drivers from the long-haul drivers’ 30-minute break obligation.
Court of Appeals Decision Made Public
According to a judgment made public in July 2022 by a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, while some of the FMCSA’s arguments in support of the HOS requirements “leave much to be desired,” the agency “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.”
While the administration’s justification was unimpressive in some ways, the court concluded that “it gets across the arbitrary and capricious line,” affirming FMCSA’s defense of the short-haul exemption explicitly.
The loss of the former 30-minute break rule for short-haul drivers was “overwhelmingly indicated” by other Teamsters members who were subject to the new break requirement that they would become more fatigued. The Teamsters said that carriers would “reprimand” them for taking unauthorized breaks when they were tired and would put pressure on them to work harder by compelling them to complete additional on-duty/non-driving work.
The appellate judges opposed the idea.
The three-judge panel noted that although some areas of the administration’s analysis and justification were wanting, ultimately, it was concluded that the new 30-minute break rule and the short-haul exemption would not have a negative impact on safety, driver health, or regulatory compliance.
Drivers can now take breaks without being penalized when they need to relax because they have an additional 30 minutes to prepare for unforeseen weather, traffic, and delay instances. Additionally, since the 30-minute off-duty break would make it possible for drivers to arrive at their destination earlier, the panel suggested that drivers might get more restful sleep as a result.
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