Trucking industry loses challenge to drive-time limits

  • Article by: TOM SCHOENBERG and JEFF PLUNGIS , Bloomberg News
  • Updated: August 2, 2013 - 8:07 PM

Federal appeals court mostly backed government rules limiting drivers’ time on the road.

– U.S. Transportation Department regulations meant to ensure truck drivers get more rest were mostly upheld by a federal appeals court, a defeat for companies that said the rules would add cost without improving highway safety.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington on Friday rejected most arguments made by the American Trucking Associations Inc. as “highly technical points best left to the agency.” The court, giving one win to the industry, vacated a 30-minute rest requirement for short-haul truck drivers.

The ruling caps 14 years of wrangling among the trucking industry, safety advocates and regulators over drive-time restrictions that led to two previous challenges before the appellate court. The court also ruled against groups including Public Citizen and the Truck Safety Coalition that said the rules didn’t go far enough.

“With one small exception, our decision today brings an end to much of the permanent warfare,” U.S. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown said in the decision.

Longer rest breaks and the need to redesign routes may reduce productivity by 3 percent, translating into $18 billion in additional costs to the trucking industry annually, according to freight data and forecasting firm FTR Associates.

Regulators said they weighed industry costs against billions of dollars in health care savings and reduced accidents in a profession that has more on-the-job deaths than any other in the United States.

The average life expectancy of a truck driver is 61, or 16 years less than the U.S. average, according to Centers for Disease Control data. Trucking is the eighth-most dangerous job in terms of deaths per worker, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The final rule, which took effect July 1, maintained an 11-hour limit on truckers’ driving day from previous rules, while altering a 34-hour rest period each week so drivers would be required to be off two consecutive nights.

The Arlington, Va.-based American Trucking Associations is disappointed in the court’s “unlimited deference” to the administration’s analysis in supporting the regulation, Dave Osiecki, the group’s senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs, said in a statement. “One thing this rulemaking makes clear is that fatigue is a small problem when viewed through a crash causation lens,” Osiecki said.

The court’s decision will allow the industry to improve safety by reducing driver fatigue, a leading factor in truck crashes, said Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in a statement.

“The ruling recognizes the sensible, data-driven approach that was taken,” DeBruyne said. It “also provides added certainty for all affected, moving forward.”

The Transportation Department estimated the regulation would cost the industry about $470 million a year with net benefits of around $630 million through fewer crashes, healthier drivers and fewer highway fatalities.

The trucking industry has said costs will be much higher as companies have to redesign their networks and drivers are forced onto the road during urban rush hours. Companies also say they’ll being forced to hire more drivers when there’s already a shortage of qualified candidates.

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