In the sixth extension of the latest highway bill, the House and Senate agreed September 30 to allow the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules to remain in effect until a final ruling is made in a Washington DC federal court, or until September 30, 2005, whichever comes first. The president signed the legislation following the congressional decisions.
"This is a substantial victory not only for the entire trucking industry, but also for DOT," says Cliff Harvison, National Tank Truck Carriers president. "On the one hand, the carriers will be spared the threat of having to immediately revert to the pre-January regulations. Such would have been extremely expensive and disruptive. While on the other hand, the Department of Transportation has been given sufficient time to consider the objections of the court and respond accordingly."
The court battle over the HOS rules continues in the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia involving the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), representatives of the trucking industry, and citizen advocacy groups.
Several trucking groups, including the American Trucking Associations, National Industrial Transportation League, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and Canadian Trucking Alliance are in the legal fray with the advocacy groups that resulted from the recent court ruling that put the new rules in limbo.
"The American Trucking Associations staff did the heavy lifting, here and they deserve the credit," Harvison adds.
Meanwhile, the House decision was part of the extension for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. The next deadline for the long-beleaguered highway bill now stands at May 31, 2005. Without the extension, current transportation program funding could not have continued.
House members earlier passed a $275-billion plan while the Senate countered with $318 billion. The White House recommended $256 billion, and said that senior advisors would counsel the president to veto the bill, if the final amount is above that.
The HOS lawsuit actions follow the July 2004 ruling by the court that overturned the new rules, citing that the regulations are "arbitrary and capricious," and listed concerns including driver health issues, an increase in maximum driving time from 10 hours to 11 hours, and sleeper berth exceptions.
The FMCSA has asked the court for more time to revisit the regulations and to allow the current rules to remain in effect until the issue is resolved. The current House extension now clarifies the situation for carriers that had been advised earlier to continue under the new rules until further advised.
The trucking industry groups argue that the intervention will, among other things, disrupt HOS-rules enforcement, compromise highway safety, and produce significant and unwarranted costs. The Canadian alliance predicted a severe economic burden for the industry in its country if the new rules are revisited.
Public Citizen, an advocacy group that often challenges the transportation industry on safety issues, has filed a brief asking the court to uphold its original decision, which the group successfully sought to stop the HOS implementation. The group also has asked members of Congress to support the court ruling, according to Public Citizen information. Others involved with the Public Citizen argument are Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers.
To see more information about the court case, click here.
For more information about the House highway bill extension, click here.