The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced on Tuesday, December 11, that it was issuing an interim final rule that maintains the current 11 hour driving limit. The new rules also require truckers to rest for 10 hours before going back out on the road. But the announcement is only the latest step in a continuing back and forth between the FMCSA and safety groups. Twice the rules have been thrown out by federal courts. The first time, in 2003, the FMCSA was ordered to conduct studies demonstrating that the new rules would not increase the risk of life-threatening highway crashes. Following that order, Congress intervened and allowed the new rules to stay in place while the FMCSA conducted those tests.
Then in January 2005, the FMCSA proposed new rules that were little changed from the first set. That second offering was once again challenged in court, where a federal district court threw the rules out as arbitrary and capricious. This new interim rule is the Administration’s confirmation that it will not change the rules while the district court’s order is being appealed. The appeal to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has been delayed until December 27. The appellate court has allowed the district court’s order to be stayed until the appellate court makes it determination regarding the new rules. How the appellate court will rule is unknown. And what would happen if Congress once again got into the mix is also up in the air. The partisan make up of Congress has changed since the last time the House and Senate got involved. All that is known for sure is that trucking companies have been benefiting from the new rules since 2003 while the challenges have made their way through the legal system. Tuesday’s announcement simply means that the longer hours will go untouched for at least a few more months.