Acting on the grounds that recently-approved trucking regulations didn’t take into concern the health of the drivers, a United States federal appeals court on Friday threw out the new regulations that would have permitted commercial truck drivers to drive longer hauls without taking a break.
The regulations, which would have upped the number of consecutive hours a commercial truck driver could spend behind the wheel from 10 to 11 hours, were originally proposed as a means of getting commercial truck drivers on a 24-hour system, something that the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) had hoped would work better with the driver’s sleep-wake cycles and therefore offer a safer experience for both the truck driver and other drivers.
However, in its ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia determined that increasing the number of hours a driver could drive might have a negative impact on the driver’s health instead through back pain and compromised drivers’ immune systems, which the court noted were both associated with driving for long periods and the associated sleep deprivation.
Initially, in 2000, FMCSA had proposed regulations that consisted of 12-hour workdays with an additional two hour-break during the work day and a required 10-hours of off-duty time after each 14-hour stint, thus creating a 24-hour driver schedule. However, in its approved form, the regulations didn’t require a mandatory two-hour break during the day.
Ironically, the goal of the new rule was to increase productivity and reduce driver fatigue. Opponents, including Public Citizen, the organization that filed the suit to overturn the regulations, noted that the longer permitted drive times instead became safety issues themselves. The group based its argument on FMCSA’s own assertion that “studies show that [driver] performance begins to degrade after the 8th hour on duty and decreases geometrically during the 10th and 11th hours.”
Public Citizen also stated that the new rule would permit truck drivers to drive 77 hours in seven days or 88 hours in eight days