Rocky Mountain Trucking LLC

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rejected Leland Schmitt’s request to be exempt from federal hours-of-service regulations, but the Spring Valley, Wisconsin-based truck driver is not giving up, according to his wife.

“We knew [getting denied] could be a possibility, and obviously we’re upset,” Lisa Schmitt told FreightWaves on Tuesday. “But hopefully we will resubmit our application by the end of the day. We’re looking at other options as well. We’re not dropping this. FMCSA has to reasonably address the reasons that the request was denied, and we feel they haven’t done that.”

In his exemption request filed in January, Leland Schmitt asked to be exempt from several hours-of-service requirements, including the 10-hour consecutive off duty time, the 14-hour consecutive duty clock and the 30-minute rest break.

“The level of safety achieved by granting this exemption would be better than if complying with the regulations … because my body would receive the rest it needs, when it needs it,” Schmitt wrote. “This would be achieved because at the age of 50, I am able to recognize when my body needs rest and when I am safe enough to drive on the nation’s roadways. The level of safety under this exemption would be at least the same, if not more than it is now, based on my 30 years of safe driving experience.”

FMCSA asserted, however, that Schmitt failed to establish that he would maintain a level of safety equivalent to, or greater than, the level achieved without the exemption.

“Research studies demonstrate that long work hours reduce sleep and harm driver health and that crash risk increases with work hours,” the agency stated in a decision set to publish in the Federal Register on Wednesday. “The HOS regulations impose limits on when and how long an individual may drive to ensure that drivers stay awake and alert and to reduce the possibility of cumulative fatigue.”

FMCSA also stated that it agreed with some of the close to 700 commenters to Schmitt’s application, pointing out that if the agency were to exempt an individual from the regulations “it could open the door for a huge number of similar exemption requests. Such a result would be inconsistent with a primary goal of the HOS regulations.”

But Lisa Schmitt argues that currently an individual can drive up to 13 hours within a 24-hour period. “We were only asking to drive 11 in a 24-hour period,” she said. “So if we’re driving less hours in a day, how can we be less safe?”

She said FMCSA was also wrong in contending that granting her husband’s application would prompt a flood of similar requests. 

“They opened the floodgates themselves by publishing an application that meets none of the exemption criteria [in the regulations],” she said, referring to an HOS exemption request filed later in the year.

Schmitt said her husband stopped driving in April because of high costs associated with the job, including increasing fuel and insurance costs — along with the inflexibility with the current HOS rules. That inflexibility has exacerbated problems associated with a lack of truck parking “and puts us at mercy of shippers and receivers,” she said.

“After 30 years, it’s not a fun environment to be out in. We came home, took the summer off and stocked up the pantry. But we want to go back on the road.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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