In a recent decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) truck diver Hours of Services ("HOS") rule that regulates the amount of time commercial truck drivers can operate their vehicles (Owner-Operator v. FMCSA, 494 F.3d 188 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).  The current HOS rules, which were adopted in October 2005, provide for a daily driving limit of eleven hours followed by a ten hour rest period.  Also, pursuant to the current rules, truck drivers may restart their weekly count of hours after they have taken a break of thirty-four hours.  In its decision, the court reduced the maximum driving time to ten hours a day followed by an eight hour rest period and vacated the thirty-four hour restart provision in order to ensure highway safety and protect driver health.

With the arrival of the critical holiday season, this change in rules could impact trucking companies, fashion retailers, and consumers alike.  A reduction of the daily driving limit could force trucking companies to hire new drivers in order to deliver goods on time and could require trucking companies to buy new equipment to maintain delivery deadlines for goods which would perish if they do not reach their final destination on time.  Increased cost to the trucking companies will likely get passed on to their customers.  Therefore, for fashion retailers, a significant increase in shipping and inventory costs could mean reduced profits.  Not all companies in the fashion industry can afford to pay more to make sure that goods are delivered on time.  Further, a reduction of driving hours could result in shortages of product and could impact inventory selection for consumers.

The lawsuit was initiated by safety organizations that argued that after the FMCSA increased the number of hours commercial truck drivers could be on the road in 2005, more people were killed and injured in large truck crashes.  One of the plaintiff organizations, “Parents Against Tired Truckers,” noted that “the trucking profession has become ‘sweatshops on wheels’ because of the excessive and unsafe hours of work and driving time required of truck drivers.”  The American Truckers Association (“ATA”), a trade group that represents commercial trucking fleets as well as private trucking fleets, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have sought to stay the decision pending further rulemaking action by the FMCSA.

The FMCSA issued a statement stating that the agency will determine the agency’s next steps to “prevent driver fatigue, ensure safe and efficient motor carrier operations an save lives.”  The agency has until December 27, 2007 to implement the new rules or to demonstrate that the existing rules are safe.