Trucking Industry Gets Some Predictability With Bill Passage

Washington D.C. seems to contain a political environment where little if anything gets done anymore. As a refreshing change from this culture, the trucking industry should benefit from the recent passage of a six-year highway bill. The final vote in the house on the bill was 363 to 64 in favor.

While there were some positive aspects to the bill, the trucking industry did not get everything that they wanted. The amendment process lasted for two days and the house voted out several initiatives sought after by the trucking industry. The bill fell short of the spending that the White House originally asked for in their budget. Now the bill goes to the U.S. Senate for approval before it heads to the White House for a signature of approval or veto.

Positive Changes for Trucking Industry

Among the changes being heralded by the industry are the improvements that roads will see because of increased spending. This should increase safety and efficiency in the areas where money is spent. In total the bill calls for $325 billion in spending over a six-year period.

Additionally, an amendment was passed that deals with state wage and labor laws. As this blog has discussed in the past, there has been a rash of litigation going after trucking companies for violating state labor laws related to wages, breaks, and other provisions. The position of companies in this fights has been that the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act preempts states from regulating truck drivers and trucking company’s wages.

Instead of continuing the fight over this dispute with state, the industry pushed for Congress to clarify the issue. The amendment will keep states from applying state labor laws to truckers or their companies when they are subject to the Federal Department of Transportation hours of service rules. This was particularly welcome news to trucking companies doing business in California and other states within the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction.

Failed Initiatives

The bill passage was not a complete victory for trucking companies. One amendment that sought to increase the possible load weights of trucks traveling on interstate highways was defeated. So while some states allow for 90,000 pound loads with a sixth axle, that will not be the case for the entire country. Critics of the non-passage argue that failing to include this in the bill will hurt American competitiveness.

Other measure that failed to reach a majority vote included doing away with FMCSA’s CSA scores. That system puts gives trucking companies of a certain size a grade that potential customers can look up and decide whether they want to use the company for business.  An amendment to do away with a future graduated CDL program was also voted down.

Trucking Law Firm for the Future

At Anderson and Yamada, P.C. we track and follow all the important developments in the trucking industry. You can rest assured that we can give the counsel and advice that your company deserves when it comes to the laws, regulations, and rules that impact the trucking industry. Contact us about your trucking law needs.

FMCSA Finishes Data Collection of Study on Hours Regulations

The FMCSA recently announced that they finished the data collection portion of a study meant to figure out the appropriate restart regulations to use in the trucking industry. The study is mandated by federal law after Congress and the White House enacted legislation last year suspending controversial hours regulations.

The FMCSA is studying the impact of their proposed regulations and whether those regulations should be modified or changed at all. This mandate from congress is just one of several areas where the FMCSA has come under federal scrutiny. The agency has found itself in the courtroom and congressional hearings justifying the regulations that it imposes on the trucking industry on a regular basis.

What the Study Accomplished

This data collection portion of this study collected information over a wide swath of the trucking industry. The primary focus of the study was to produce the effects of this rule on the health, safety, and fatigue of drivers who are put under the agency’s regulations.

To accomplish this purpose, the FMCSA collected data on fleets of all sizes, and focused on data points including gathering information on more than:

  • 3,000 duty cycles through the use of electronic tracking devices;
  • 75,000 tests on drivers to test their alertness; and
  • 22,000 days of sleep information for drivers of commercial vehicles.

The information was gather from over 200 participating drivers, and will drive the analysis that now follows.

As the analysis portion of the study begins, the agency will need to report the results and apply them to the rules as written. The FMCSA wants to finish the analysis and study by the end of 2015, but may extend into the next year.

Regulation and Suspension

The parts of the rules being studied are popularly named the restart rules of 2013. That portion of the rule put the following requirements on truck drivers:

  • No driver was allowed to be on duty after 60/70 hours in a 7/8 day period;
  • A driver had to restart their 7/8 day period only after a 34 consecutive hour break from work; and
  • The periods had to include times from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., and could only be used once per week measured from the previous restart.

When this rule was first implemented it was met with a flurry of criticism from the industry. The rule was meant to increase safety, but the real-world effect tended to be the opposite. Drivers drove at the earliest times of day to fit in as much work as possible, and many in the industry complained that the rule would create a danger for the roads. It was in this environment that congress and the White House stepped in and suspended the rule. Now, as we discussed, the agency is tasked with studying the real-world effects of this rule and providing the results of that study justifying or eliminating the rule.

A Trucking Law Firm For Your Company

As your company continues to grow and evolve, state and federal regulations will play a large role in how that happens. At Anderson and Yamada, P.C., we are a trucking law firm that can help your company navigate the numerous rules, laws, and regulations that affect the trucking industry. Contact us so we can provide you with all the legal help your company needs.

FMCSA Announces Exception to Hours of Service Requirements

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.

Supreme Court Rejects Petition to Overturn Minimum Break Standards

The Supreme Court decided against taking on Penske Logistics v. Dilts, a case from California involving state rules mandating breaks and meal times for truckers. Had the Supreme Court taken up the case and made a decision, it would have had far-reaching consequences on the trucking industry. That is why, the American Trucking Association, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and others became involved in the case, filing friend-of-the-court briefs to persuade the Court.

By choosing not to review the case and hand down a decision, the Court leaves the 9th Circuit decision on the case as law. Often times when the Court decides not to hear a case it can mean the justices don’t think this it is the right case for the issue, so they wait for another, or they think the lower court got it right, and leave it alone. Time will tell why the Court did not hear the case, but now it is up to the trucking industry to deal with the ramifications.

California’s Laws for Meal and Rest Breaks

It may not be surprising to learn that California has very worker-friendly labor laws. Among those laws are a requirement that employers provide a 30-minute meal break for employees who work more than five hours in a day. Employees working more than 10 hours a day are entitled to an additional 30-minute lunch break. Cal. Lab.Code § 512(a). Additionally, under California’s labor regulations, employers are required to provide employees in the transportation industry with 10 minutes of paid rest every four hours. Cal.Code Regs. tit. 8, § 11090(12)(A). The case rejected by the Supreme Court was over the legitimacy of these laws and rules.

Employees from a well known trucking company complained that they were not given the breaks and meal time required by California law. They filed a lawsuit as a class against their employer seeking to be compensated for lost time, and to be given the breaks and mealtimes that the law mandates. Of course the company disagreed because, in their mind, they are regulated by the rules and regulations of several federal agencies. Under the company’s view, the federal government has very specific rule regarding maximum driving times and rest periods regarding truckers, and therefore the California law does not apply to their industry, the trucking industry.

The Case Makes Its Way Through the System

The case by the employees was originally filed in state court, but it was removed to federal court. At the district court level the trucking company asked the court to dismiss the case because the state’s laws were preempted by the rules and regulations authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration Authorization Act of 1994 (FAAAA). The district court agreed and dismissed the case. In its reasoning, the district court noted that the FAAAA prohibits a state from regulating issues of motor carriers related to prices, routes, or services. After receiving this bad news the employees appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

After hearing the case and looking at the law, the 9th Circuit reversed the lower court’s ruling and sent it back to be tried on its merits. While recognizing that the FAAAA does put limits on what a state can regulate, the 9th Circuit held that these particular laws do not directly involve prices, routes, or services. After handing down this decision, the trucking company appealed to the Supreme Court, but was denied a hearing. Now the law stands – at least until the Supreme Court takes on the next case.

At Anderson & Yamada we stay up to date on all the big decisions affecting the trucking industry. We are trucking industry lawyers ready and able to help your company navigate the constant changes of law, rules, and regulations. Contact us now so we can serve you.

Trucking Rules to Change Under Proposed Budget

Called an early Christmas present for the trucking industry by its skeptics, the proposed budget for the Department of Transportation contains major rule changes. Skeptics of the proposal include partisans in the federal government and some safety groups. Besides the rules changes, the budget would appropriate over $500 million to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, charged with overseeing the safety of the trucking industry.

Interestingly, the proposed rule changes impact the safety agenda of the FMCSA more than anything else. We have written on this blog about that agenda, and about the increased scrutiny that particular agency has come under. Now it seems that the congressional scrutiny is being changed to congressional law.

Key Rules Changed

If the budget is passed, there are several rules changes that would have a big effect on the trucking industry. Those rules changes are:

  • 2013’s restart changes would continue to be suspended. In 2013 the FMCSA finalized a year 2011 rule that required drivers to restart their work for hour limit purposes to contain two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. By suspending the rule drivers could take any 34-hour period to restart their times, and restart more than once a week if needed. The new rule only allowed one restart in a 168-hour period. Under the proposed budget the new rule would continue to be suspended until the FMCSA conducts a thorough study of its effects.
  • Pup trailers often doubled and tripled behind a tractor are currently limited to 28 feet. But the proposed budget would increase the allowed size to 33 feet. This change comes after a major news story was written by the New York Times on the lobbying efforts that were made to institute and stop the changes. Of course the trucking industry lobbied to increase the trailer length so more cargo can be hauled, while the rail industry lobbied to stop the change as it threatened how much cargo would be shipped on the rails.
  • Any increase in the current insurance minimums by the FMCSA would be blocked. At a recent congressional hearing, FMCSA officials reported that they may issue a rule increasing the insurance minimums from the current level of $750,000 to $1 million or more. The FMCSA report indicated the increasing costs of catastrophic accidents justified an insurance bump, but in the proposed budget Congress would not allow it.

We Can Help Navigate Your Company Through Big Changes

This is further evidence of just how fluid trucking industry rules and regulations can be. The constant changes in rules, court decisions, and statutes can cause a lot of frustration to trucking companies they try and understand it. When that happens to you, contact us so we can help you apply the law to your company as it continues to change. At Anderson and Yamada, P.C. our practice is dedicated to truckers and trucking companies. We know the ins and outs of the industry, its rules, regulations, and laws. We can navigate your company through an legal hurdle you may be facing.