Hours-of-service (HOS) rules govern how and when and for how long truck drivers work. This comprehensive, sweeping set of rules was last updated in 2013, and many in the industry are seeking flexibility in those rules. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), under the leadership of Administrator Ray Martinez, indicated this summer that it is willing to consider changes. The agency issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) in August seeking comments on some questions related to HOS—and it recently extended the comment deadline to October 10. So far, more than 2,200 comments have been submitted.
Primarily, truck drivers want revisions to the 10-hour rest break rule. After the expiration of a trucker’s 14-hour clock (which consists of 11 hours of drive time, plus three hours of on-duty time), that driver must be off-duty or in a sleeper berth for 10 consecutive hours before driving again. The industry is petitioning the FMCSA to allow drivers the flexibility to split the sleeper berth hours as they see fit: five and five, six and four, seven and three, etc.
Some drivers simply do not need 10 consecutive hours of rest at night—or during the day depending on a driver’s shift. Proponents of this sleeper berth flexibility argue that allowing a driver to rest when necessary will have a positive impact on safety; instead of feeling like they must work their 14 hours before they can take a long break, drivers could have the flexibility to rest for five hours before continuing the 14-hour clock. They wouldn’t feel pressed to “beat the clock” and drive while tired. Flexibility to split the sleeper berth, many argue, would eliminate the another HOS requirement that a driver take a 30-minute break after eight hours of working before being able to drive again. This provision was added in 2013 with a goal of reducing fatigue.
While the ANPRM is not a formal regulation and may not lead to formal regulation, it is a positive sign that the agency is listening. The ANPRM sought input on whether the 30-minute rest break is necessary, if the 14-hour work day window should be expanded during adverse weather conditions, and what alternatives would make the sleeper berth options more effective.
An American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) study on HOS flexibility found that breaking up the 10-hour rest break in strategic periods could lead to efficiencies by allowing drivers to avoid rush hour congestion.
“The opportunity for a driver to adapt to changing conditions and congestion levels throughout a day is critical and could be greatly enhanced with the addition of flexible sleeper berth rules to the current HOS regulations,” according to ATRI. ATRI studied data from a 40-mile stretch of highway in Atlanta, GA, that can take up to 90 minutes to navigate in rush hour. Flexible HOS rules would allow a driver to rest during times of peak traffic and traverse the highway when the route is relatively clear, saving both time and money.
“If only 25 truck trips per day avoided the congested weekday time period presented on the study segment, truck drivers would drive 4,700 fewer hours annually to move the same goods the same distance,” according to the report. “This equates to operational cost savings of more than $300,000 per year for the 25-truck sample at that single location.”
In a time of tight truck capacity and a shortage of professional drivers, spending less time in traffic and gaining efficiencies helps everyone. The feedback received during the ANPRM period will determine FMCSA’s next steps in the process of potentially revising the HOS rules, according to Commercial Carrier Journal.
Interested in providing comments on HOS flexibility? Please visit the FMCSA website.