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WASHINGTON D.C. – On January 15, 2010 the American Trucking Associations (ATA) filed a lawsuit with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in which it asks the court to compel the Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a long-overdue regulation for hours-of-service (HOS) supporting documents.

Semi truck carriers on US highways affected by DOT hours-of-service documents

The lawsuit that was filed by the ATA is referred to as a “mandamus” action in which a court can compel government officials to perform their legal duties. Actions such as this that compel agencies to issue overdue regulations are common. Such actions often result in a settlement where the government agency agrees to act within a negotiated time frame …

In the lawsuit, the ATA is asking the Court to require the DOT to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) within 60 days of the Court’s ruling and a final rule within 6 months of the NPRM publication date.

In an article at the ATA website on the subject of this lawsuit, President and CEO Bill Graves was quoted as saying, “We have a tremendous amount of respect for the Department of Transportation and the work they do, but we had to show the Department just how important the supporting documents issue is to our industry.” Graves went on to say, “We hope this lawsuit prompts a greater focus on the issue and that the Department will be willing to work with us to get the regulation out within a reasonable time frame.”

Supporting documents mentioned in the lawsuit refer to the documents required by motor carriers that can be used to verify drivers’ HOS records. The documents are required to be retained for 6 months. The DOT failed to properly define for motor carriers what constituted a supporting document. Congress recognized that this failure was imposing a financial and administrative burden on the trucking industry. As a result, in 1994 the agency was ordered by Congress to promulgate a rule which would designate the “number, type, and frequency of [required] supporting document retention” and to ensure that such retention would be at a “reasonable cost” to motor carriers.

The Congressional directive called for a rule to become effective in 1996. Despite this fact, the DOT has failed to act. In place of a clear cut rule, the agency has adopted informal guidelines with as broad a definition of supporting document retention as possible. These informal guidelines identify 34 categories of records. The ruling is so broad that any document that “could” possibly be used to verify HOS records must be retained as a supporting document.

Consequently, this places an administrative and financial burden on motor carriers. This fact was recognized by Congress in 1994 yet it remains in place to this day. The problem has been exacerbated by the agency’s recent pursuit of various types of electronic records (as supporting documents) in compliance reviews.

Dave Osiecki, ATA Senior Vice President of Policy and Regulatory Affairs, has commented on the recent action, stating, “In order to comply, trucking companies need to know what the rules are.” Osiecki goes on to say, “In the case of supporting documentation for hours-of-service, the requirements have never been established by regulation. ATA has been seeking a fair and cost-effective regulation, consistent with federal law, for more than 15 years.”

For more information about trucking laws and regulations throughout the United States, contact nationwide truck accident attorneys, Gordon & Elias at 1.800.773.6770.

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