HOS Decision Stirs “Short-Haul” Confusion

The recent decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has left confusion as to its impact on short-haul trucking.

The opinion, written by Judge Janice Rogers Brown, does not directly define “short-haul” and there are at least two existing definitions in federal rules.

According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) which brought the suit to overturn the rules, the decision “technically” applies only to non-CDL holders who operate within a 150 air mile radius. This interpretation would leave out short-haul operators who carry CDLs.

However, ATA says the court “also pointed out the distinction between short haul and long haul drivers generally, and how the intent of FMCSA’s changes to the hours of service rules was to address the latter. Consistent with the Court’s rationale, ATA believes both types of short haul drivers were intended to be exempted from the rest break requirement.”

ATA says it is seeking clarification from FMCSA before the Court’s decision takes effect.

In the decision, which was handed down August 2, the court upheld most of the new driver hours of service rules which became fully effective July 1, with one exception: The court threw out the new 30-minute break provision as it pertains to short-haul operations.

In rejecting the break rule for short-haul, the court made note of the significant operational distinctions between long and short-haul drivers: “The HOS regulations cover not only the ‘long-haul’ truck drivers who regularly sacrifice days, weeks, and even months with their families to make the American economy go round, but ‘short-haul’ drivers as well, those who operate within a local area.” The opinion goes on to quote FMCSA itself to the effect that “short-haul trucking work has far more in common with other occupations than it does with regional or long-haul trucking” and “[s]hort-haul drivers rarely drive anything close to 11 hours, and available statistics show that they are greatly under-represented in fatigue-related accidents.”

The opinion noted that while a few regulatory distinctions exist, “in most other respects… however, short- and long-haul drivers were bound by the same HOS provisions.” “Despite the many paragraphs scattered throughout the multiple rulemakings distinguishing short- and long-haul trucking both in degree and in kind,” the court said, “the 2011 Final Rule contains not one word justifying the agency’s decision to apply the new requirement to the unique context of short-haul operations.”

The court characterized the agency’s response that the need for the requirement “applies on its face, to short-haul and well as long-haul drivers” as a “conclusory, posthoc rationalization.”

FMCSA will need to go back to the drawing board regarding the break requirement for short-haul trucking. It could either initiate a rulemaking to rescind the rule or try to better justify it through additional research or analysis. Most observers believe it will choose to rescind.

The litigation stemmed from challenges to the new rules which were finalized in 2011 but only fully implemented July1 2013. The battle over HOS regulations has lasted more than a decade; major changes were first proposed in 2000. Since then the matter has been subject to a continuous stream of rulemaking, legislation and litigation.

For additional information on this and other FMCSA-related issues contact Earl Eisenhart at info@insidefmcsa.com.

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