A court’s decision to let the current hours-of-service (HOS) rules stand for just 90 more days supports the recommendations of safety groups determined to protect drivers and passengers alike on the nation’s highways, Public Citizen reports.

The Sept. 28 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is the latest twist in a long-running case in which Public Citizen, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and other groups are challenging the hours-of-service rule that the federal government first adopted in 2003.

The court struck down the 2003 regulation as well as a similar 2005 rule, which raised the consecutive driving limit from 10 hours to 11 hours and added a 34-hour restart provision, allowing drivers to significantly increase both their weekly driving and on-duty hours.

When striking down the 2005 rule this past July, the court said that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) reliance on a new fatigue model without first providing notice and the opportunity for public comment was improper. The court also faulted the agency, says Public Citizen, for the way it treated the risk increase associated with 11 straight hours of driving, and for failing to deal with the added cumulative fatigue the 34-hour restart rule would cause.

The American Trucking Associations had asked that the court delay its ruling for eight months to allow time for the rules to be rewritten. FMCSA had been seeking a year. Public Citizen opposed any stay, but argued for a shorter 90 days if the court decided to put one in place.

The stay allows FMCSA to keep the existing HOS rules in place until the end of 2007.

“The agency should use the time to oversee the transition to pre-2003 driving limits rather than continuing to insist on an hours-of-service scheme that endangers truck drivers and motorists,” said Joan Claybrook, president, Public Citizen, in a statement.

In response to the ruling, FMCSA posted the following statement to its Web site: “We are carefully evaluating our options in light of the court's ruling. Make no mistake, maintaining the safety of America's highways continues to be our priority.”