FMCSA TO CHANGE Hours-of-Service

Since new hours-of-service (HOS) regulations were introduced by the Department of Transportation in 2013, the transportation industry has argued the need for flexibility in the rules. In response, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued proposed changes to the HOS rules with the goal of improving the lives of truck drivers while still ensuring safety on roads.

“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The proposed rule changes would not increase a drivers’ daily driving time, but they would give professional drivers and companies more flexibility in determining how those driving hours are broken up, allowing drivers to rest when tired and take breaks to avoid major traffic congestion times.

FMCSA’s proposed five key revisions to the existing HOS rules include the following:

  • Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption of at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  • Modify the sleeper berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off-duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off-duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • Allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • Change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Former FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez told industry trade publications that the changes are “a commonsense approach to crafting hours-of-service regulations that are more flexible for truck drivers and promote safety for all who share the road.”

He added that drivers must navigate a host of challenges in their workday, including congestion, parking issues, and inclement weather. “[Drivers] need some level of flexibility that allows them to work around. Many of them felt they were racing the clock with those AOBRDs or ELDs. We hope that providing this type of flexibility puts a little more power back in the hands of drivers and carriers to make smart decisions with regard to safety and the realities of what they’re facing on the roadways.”

The FMCSA accepted comments from the industry on the proposed rules. This feedback from stakeholders will help determine if and how the FMCSA moves forward with implementing the proposed changes.

Since the new rules were put in place in 2013, the industry has sought revision to the 10-hour rest break rule, which requires drivers to be off-duty or in a sleeper berth for 10 consecutive hours before driving again after completing a 14-hour workday. Allowing drivers to split this sleeper berth, proponents of the change argued, could eliminate the need for the 30-minute break rule—requiring that a driver take a 30-minute break after eight hours of working before being able to drive again.

Both of those main requests were answered in the FMCSA’s proposal. Drivers would be allowed to split their sleeper berth, and the 30-minute break rule is more flexible. For instance, if a driver stopped to unload at hour five for more than 30 minutes, that driver would not be required to take an off-duty, 30-minute break.

So far, the proposed changes have been met largely with praise by industry stakeholders, including the American Trucking Associations, state trucking associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, and the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Ruan’s leaders are also pleased that the FMCSA is prepared to take action in this area, especially since the industry can provide ample data supporting the need for flexibility. “The ELD mandate was beneficial for our industry to drive data to highlight opportunities with hours-of-service regulations,” said Ruan’s Director of Safety Programs Allison Meiners. “The data is now accompanying our voices for change and flexibility. Our team is busy reviewing the proposal and determining how the changes could positively impact our operations and the safety of our drivers and the motoring public.”