Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) modified certain regulations impacting commercial drivers. The Final Rule made two changes related to the hours of service regulations for commercial drivers. Driver advocates challenged the new regulations and the dispute ultimately went to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The lawsuit alleged that the revised regulations were arbitrary and capricious. The Court of Appeals upheld the regulations.

Commercial driver on road in a blue semi trailer vehicle.

What the new regulations change

The two aspects of the Final Rule challenged on appeal included an update to the recordkeeping rules for short-haul drivers and a change to what may constitute the required 30-minute break for drivers. First, the short-haul recordkeeping exception now applies to drivers with on-duty periods of 14 hours, rather than 12 hours. Additionally, the short-haul exception now applies for drivers within a radius of 150 miles, rather than 100 miles, from the driver’s normal work reporting location.

These changes will allow operators to take advantage of simpler recordkeeping and other requirements applicable to the short-haul classification. Under this expanded classification, drivers will not be required to use electronic logging devices or take required 30-minute breaks that are applicable to the long-haul classification. Second, under the Final Rule, a 30-minute break is only required if a driver has driven for eight hours without at least a 30-minute non-driving interval. This narrowed language allows for the 30-minute break requirement to be satisfied by any non-driving time, such as loading or unloading a truck.

Advocate pushback

Both of these updates were challenged by advocacy groups concerned about driver safety and the practical impact of these new regulations. In support of their appeal, advocates for drivers argued that the changes to short-haul regulations were arbitrary and capricious. Advocates also challenged the updated description of what can satisfy the required 30-minute break, arguing that it fails to consider the impact of fatigue created by non-driving activities over the course of a 14-hour day of driving.

However, the D.C. Circuit held that the Final Rule passed scrutiny and was not arbitrary and capricious, denying the appeal. The court held that the FMCSA had properly considered the competing research into risks related to these new regulations and determined them to be risk neutral. The court held that simply a break from the task of driving is all that is needed to reduce the risk of being involved in an accident or other safety critical event.

Key takeaways

It is important for drivers and employers of commercial drivers to be aware of the implementation and enforcement of these revised regulations. The regulations promulgated by the FMCSA apply to commercial motor vehicle drivers. The civil penalties associated with violations of the hours of service rules can range from suspension to thousands of dollars in fines. It is important for both employers and employees operating commercial vehicles to ensure compliance with these new regulations.