The long-running battle between the federal Department of Transportation (“DOT”) and unions representing commercial motor vehicle (“CMV”) drivers took another twist last week. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit invalidated DOT rules that relaxed maximum hours of service rules for CMV drivers. In 2003, DOT promulgated new rules allowing long-haul CMV drivers to work more consecutive hours (11 instead of 10), in return for significant changes in time required between shifts for rest and recovery. The rules also expanded carriers’ ability to use driver teams and sleeper berths to expedite deliveries. The unions and safety advocates challenged the rules, contending that DOT had not performed adequate studies on the effects of extended driving hours on public safety. In 2004, a federal court remanded the rules to DOT for additional study and explanation of the impact of the new regulations. In 2005, DOT reissued the rules in close to their original form, and motor carriers have been operating under these requirements ever since.
In Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, Inc. v. Fed. Motor Carrier Safety Admin., the D.C. Circuit invalidated the DOT rules, concluding that the agency did not have sufficient safety impact information to extend driver hours of service. The court gave DOT until September 14 of this year to reimpose the pre-2003 rules. DOT may appeal this decision to the full D.C. Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court, and seek a stay of the appellate court’s order. If no such stay is granted, employers using CMV drivers will be faced with significant changes in calculating maximum hours of service and recovery periods between driving shifts. Employers faced with these possible changes should closely monitor this litigation and DOT announcements to ensure ongoing compliance.