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FMCSA Proposes Changes to Hours of Service Rules

Aug. 14, 2019
Trucking companies like the changes, while the Teamsters have serious doubts.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published a notice of proposed rulemaking on changes to hours of service (HOS) rules to increase safety on America’s roadways by updating existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers.

“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” says U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao. The agency is inviting all truck drivers, stakeholders and others involved to review and comment on the proposal.

First adopted in 1937, FMCSA’s hours of service rules specify the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. In 2018, FMCSA authored an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on U.S. highways and roads. In response, the agency received more than 5,200 public comments.

Based on the detailed public comments, FMCSA’s proposed rule on hours of service offers five key revisions to the existing HOS rules:

  • FMCSA proposes to increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on duty, not driving status, rather than off duty.
  • The agency proposes to 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.
  • The agency proposes to 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.
  • The agency proposes to modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • The Agency proposes a change to 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.

FMCSA estimates that its proposed HOS rule will provide $274 million in savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers.

The public comment period will be open for 45 days. 

The Federal Register Notice, including how to submit comments, is available here: https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/regulations/hours-service/474821/nprmfile08-08-2019-131534.pdf

Not surprisingly, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the labor union representing over 1 million truckers and other workers, has already weighed in, with a comment from general president Jim Hoffa, who believes these new rules would actually lead to reduced roadway safety for drivers and the traveling public at large.

“While we continue to review these proposed regulatory changes by the FMCSA, the Teamsters have serious concerns about what we have seen thus far when it comes to these hours of service reforms,” Hoffa says.

“In an effort to increase so-called ‘flexibility’ for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further. Changes for short-haul truckers, for example, would extend their days from 12 to 14 hours on the job. That means a longer and more exhausting workday for tens of thousands of American workers. The Teamsters are also concerned about language changing the 30-minute rest break and the ability of drivers to press the pause button on their hours of service clock.”

In Hoffa’s estimation, “we shouldn’t be sacrificing the health and safety of drivers just to pad the profits of their big business bosses.”

On the other hand, and again not surprisingly, the American Trucking Associations, representing the motor carrier companies, is very much in favor of the new rules. Saying they will improve safety on the nation’s highways while providing additional flexibility for professional drivers.

“[FMCSA] are to be commended for their commitment to an open and data-driven process to update the hours-of-service rules,” says ATA’s president and CEO Chris Spear. “We look forward to studying and understanding how these proposed changes will impact our industry so we can provide relevant data and information to strengthen and support a good final rule that bolsters safety and provides drivers needed flexibility.”

“In the 15 years since the last major revisions to the hours-of-service, we as an industry have learned a great deal about how these rules impact our drivers,” adds ATA chairman Barry Pottle, president of Pottle’s Transportation. “The valuable experience and data we’ve gained over that time will make it easier to provide flexibility for drivers to get additional rest and find parking while keeping our highways safe.”

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