Story highlights

There's been a 14-year legal fight between the industry and consumer groups

The appeals court says the federal agency has the right to make the rules

The rules set new limits on work hours and rest breaks

Washington CNN  — 

Tightened government regulations on the amount of hours long-haul truckers can spend on the road have been largely upheld by a federal appeals court, ending a 14-year legal fight between the industry and consumer groups.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Friday agreed that the federal agency in charge of motorist safety should have the discretion to administer the rules for the most part as it sees fit.

The safety-oriented provisions were criticized by the trucking and business industries as expensive and overly restrictive. Consumer groups countered the federal rules did not go far enough to ensure public safety.

But the appeals court said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s belief that its rules are “just right” should be respected.

“Our decision today brings to an end much of the permanent warfare surrounding the HOS (hours-of-service) rules,” said the three-judge panel. “Though FMCSA won the day not on the strengths of its rulemaking prowess, but through an artless war of attrition, the controversies of this round are ended.”

Some of the rules being challenged went into effect July 1, and include:

– Limiting the maximum average work week for truckers to 70 hours, from the previous 82.

– Allowing drivers who reach the 70-hour limit to resume only after a mandatory rest for 34 consecutive hours. That includes at least two nights to help fatigued truckers to get their body clocks restored

– Requiring a 30-minute “off-duty” break during the first eight hours of a shift.

The final rules adopted in 2011 kept in place the current 11-hour daily driving limit and 14-hour total work day, which was criticized by consumer groups as potentially unsafe to other drivers.

The judges in their Friday decision said the highly technical matters are “best left to the agency” to tackle.

“These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research and unprecedented stakeholder outreach,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “The result is a fair and balanced approach that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives.”

The case is American Trucking Association v. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (12-1092).