Nearly nine months after proposing five changes to the current hours-of-service (HOS) rules that govern when and for how long professional truck drivers may work, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued on May 14 a final rulemaking that was met largely with praise by the transportation industry.
The federal HOS rules were last updated in 2013, and the industry has sought flexibility that would allow truck drivers to make driving decisions based on fatigue, weather, congestion, etc. The final rule adopts four of the five proposed changes made last year. The new rule does not increase a driver’s daily driving time or working limit, but rather allows the driver flexibility to determine how those hours are spent. The rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register this week, and it will be effective 120 days after publication.
First, the 30-minute break rule, which requires a break after no more than eight hours of consecutive driving, can now be satisfied by the on-duty/not driving status, rather than off-duty status. Therefore, drivers could use fueling time or waiting to load/unload as the 30-minute break.
Second, drivers will now be allowed to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split, with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window. Under the current rules, drivers must be off-duty or in a sleeper berth for 10 consecutive hours before driving again after completing a 14-hour workday.
These changes largely satisfy the industry’s call for flexibility. Currently, many drivers feel that the 30-minute break rule is unnecessary or forces them to break at inconvenient or unnecessary times, especially when several drivers spend on-duty time not driving—like when they’re detained at a shipper’s location. Adjusting the sleeper berth, proponents argue, will allow drivers the flexibility to decide when to get the rest they need. Many drivers argue they do not need 10 consecutive hours of rest to drive safely—now they will be allowed to split the break into two rest periods.
Third, FMCSA will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending the maximum window during which driving is permitted by two hours. The current rule already permits two hours of additional driving time on the 11-hour clock, so this expands the 14-hour on-duty clock by two hours as well. The new rule allows the workday to be extended to as much as 16 hours in the case of adverse conditions such as extreme weather or congestion. Currently, some drivers might continue driving in unsafe conditions in order to get the job done within the 14-hour limit. Under the new rules, drivers will hopefully stop driving during inclement weather knowing they have more hours to complete their route.
Fourth, the agency will change the short-haul exemption that is available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the driver’s 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.
FMCSA evaluated more than 8,000 comments from industry stakeholders regarding the proposed changes and sought to balance roadway safety with much-needed driver flexibility in the final rule.
“This new final rule will improve safety for all motorists and increase flexibility for America’s truckers,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a press conference. “This has been a deliberate and a careful process provided by the direct feedback we’ve had from truckers, carriers, safety advocates, law enforcement, and concerned residents and citizens. Each of these areas of reform are designed to add flexibility and regulatory savings for the motor carrier industry, which is critical for our nation’s economic recovery.”
Now, the industry must prepare to operate under the newly updated rules.
“We are excited the FMCSA was still working hard to get the final rule published even during these unprecedented times,” said Ruan’s Director of Safety Programs Allison Meiners. “Although we won’t see this go into effect for a minimum of four months, we’re still actively reviewing and discussing the changes with our ELD provider, among many others.”