FMCSA Announces Exception to Hours of Service Requirements

Kevin Anderson Hours of Service, Regulations, Transportation

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently announced that they will renew an exception to federal driving time requirements. The rule is being renewed after the exception was first granted at the request of major agricultural concerns two years ago. This newest renewal will remain in effect for two additional years, the maximum amount of time allowed by federal law to renew rules such as these.

Current Rule and Controversy

The current hours of service rule can be found in 49 CFR 395.3(a)(3)(ii), and require that drivers transporting property take a minimum break of 30 minutes after driving for 8 hours. This rule was passed by the FMCSA in 2011, but has not been without controversy. In its essence this rule, and rules like it, have been challenged by the trucking industry since it was originally adopted in 2003.

The original rule was passed by the FMCSA in 2003 after the agency was created by Congress in 1999. The rule as a whole contains more than a requirement that drivers take a 30-minute break every 8 hours. The rule puts limits on maximum driving hours, when the calculation of hours can restart, and more. As soon as the hours of service rules was passed by the agency, it was challenged by the trucking industry as an ‘arbitrary and capricious’ use of the agency’s power. And in 2004, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. At the time, the court of appeals stated that the agency failed to ensure that the new rules would not have a negative impact on driver’s health.

After having the rule vacated, the agency went back to the drawing board, and issued a new rule in 2005. Nothing really changed in the rule, but the FMCSA changed the methods they used to pass the rule. As you can imagine, the trucking industry still did not agree with the new, final rule. So the industry took the agency back to court, and won again. This time, the industry argued that:

  1. The agency failed to show how they came to their conclusions as to why the rule was needed; and,
  2. The agency failed to explain the critical elements that went into their decision.

Again, the court agreed with the trucking industry, and sent the agency back to the drawing board. After further litigation was threatened due to a 2008 rule, a final rule was adopted and passed the court’s muster in 2013, with one exception. The court ruled that the 30-minute break requirement should not apply to short-haul truck drivers.

Exception and Reasons for the Exception

Fast forward to today, and the rule is again being changed. The aforementioned 30-minute break rule applies to nearly all drivers. But it poses a special challenge to drivers transporting live animals such as hogs, cattle, sheep, and others. The challenge is particularly pronounced in the summer when live animals have to sit in the hot sun while a driver takes a required break. These are some of the reasons why the FMCSA decided to grant the exception to the agriculture industry as they transport animals along the highway. The exception will apply for two years.