Two years after first announcing its proposal to revise hours of service regulations for drivers of commercial vehicles, and after receiving thousands of comments from drivers and members of the public, the Department of Transportation released last Thursday its final decision regarding new HOS rules.
“America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, in a DOT news release.
“The Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration listened directly to the concerns of truckers seeking rules that are safer and have more flexibility -- and we have acted."
The new rulemaking proposal was also driven by an increased accuracy in hours of service tracking that has been provided by the ELD mandate, according to the final rulemaking document; which led to FMCSA receiving feedback from members of Congress and other interested parties saying that drivers now need more flexibility under the HOS rules.
Set to take effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register, the new rules offer these four key revisions to the current HOS regulations:
The Agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers 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.
The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
The Agency will 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.
The entirely of the 232-page HOS revisions can be viewed in this PDF document.
This final decision on HOS rules followed an announcement in 2018 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of its authoring of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The stated purpose was to "alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads."
Thousands of drivers, stakeholders, and members of the public responded to FMCSA's offer for comments on the proposed changes.
FMCSA says that the new rule revisions will improve safety on the nation's roadways, while at the same time not increasing driving time or allowing commercial drivers to drive more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.
The rule modernization for hours of service regulations is also estimated to provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers, according to the DOT news release.
Stronger revisions were desired by some
FMCSA received a number of petitions from the truck industry regarding HOS revisions; among them the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, TruckerNation, United States Transportation Alliance, and one from the United Drivers Association (UDA).
Many of the changes requested in the petitions were not implemented into the final document. For example, OOIDA asked the FMCSA to allow an off-duty rest break of up to 3 consecutive hours during a 14-hour driving window; which would stop the 14-hour clock during the break, but add it back on once the driver went on-duty again.
OOIDA said that their request required no change to the 11 hours of driving time nor to the 10 hours of off-duty time before starting the next work shift.
Obviously, those provisions were not implemented into the new rules.
There was opposition to the proposed changes
Comments in the online comments section, as well as during the "listening sessions" sponsored by FMCSA during the two years of the proposal, revealed that not all were happy with any relaxing of the hours of service regulations for commercial drivers.
There were many comments, mostly from individuals, suggesting that proposed rule changes would contribute to driver fatigue and threaten public safety.
However, comments along the same theme came in from such entities as the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Safety Council, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Advocates, Road Safe America, Senator Patty Murray, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the Truck Safety Coalition.
Their representatives argued that the changes did not fully address safety and logistical issues, sleep patterns and the association with fatigued driving, and that motor carriers "would coerce drivers into working while fatigued, creating unsafe road conditions for drivers and other motorists."
FMCSA, however, stood behind its proposed changes, saying, "[T]he Agency concludes that the changes adopted today will not result in the adverse safety consequences they described. None of the revisions in this rule allow truck drivers additional driving time beyond the 11-hour limit provided in the current regulations (or the 13-hour limit provided with the current adverse driving conditions exceptions)."
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