The final rules for hours-of-service regulations, which have been in the works for months, have finally been published by The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This effort, the agency says, is meant to bring further flexibility for truckers across the country.
The final regulation, effective 120 days after its publication date in the Federal Register, was announced recently by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, along with FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen. The rule has four new revisions regarding the most-voiced concerns truckers have brought to light–including the time split in sleeper berths, for instance, as well as the mandatory 30-minute rest break.
According to Mullen, the revisions came from taking into account 8,000 public comments received by the agency. These changes were made to bring “needed flexibility in the lives of America’s truckers,” he explained.
Now, the final HOS rule will allow for more flexibility in regards to mandatory rest breaks of 30 minutes by instead requiring one break after eight hours of driving. The break can include a driver using an “on-duty, not driving” status as opposed to just an “off-duty” status.
Sleeper berth exceptions have also been implemented, as drivers can now divide the required 10 hours of off-duty time into two split periods–either an 8-hour/2-hour split or a 7-hour/3-hour split. These periods will not count against a driver’s 14-hour total driving window.
“Each of these changes were based on the feedback we received from the thousands of public comments we received during the rulemaking, and through the listening sessions we held around the country,” Mullen said. “It is also important to note that this new rule will not increase driving time and will continue to prevent [commercial motor vehicle] operators from driving more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute change-in-duty status.”
Still, the HOS rule also changes the exception for adverse driving conditions, as the maximum window for driving during inclement weather has been extended by two hours.
Exceptions for short-haul routes have also been made available to drivers–their maximum on-duty period has been extended from 12 to 14 total hours. The distance limit in which a driver can operate has also been extended from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
“This new final rule will improve safety for all motorists and increase flexibility for America’s truckers,” said Chao. “Each of these areas of reform are designed to provide much-needed flexibility to drivers while maintaining safety on the roads. This has been a deliberate and careful process.”
American Trucking Associations submitted comments to the FMCSA regarding these changes, and ATA’s vice president of safety policy, Dan Horvath, said that the association supported the majority of proposed regulation changes when they were first announced. However, he also said the ATA was not necessarily on board with short-haul air mile radius changes, saying more carriers may not need to implement electronic logging device usage as a result. ATA has been in full support of ELD usage since they first became available.
“Overall, we’re happy to see the final rule released,” said Horvath. “It’s not everything that we had supported in the past, but it’s certainly a good step in the right direction. We’ll continue to work with the agency on making sure that whatever hours-of-service regulations remain in place are offering drivers flexibility and backed by safety.”
Mullen also pointed out truckers’ important roles throughout the coronavirus pandemic, and said this new rule will boost regulatory efficiency for the industry during this time.
“In the past few months, we have seen the heroic actions that truckers have done to keep up our supply chain, keep it open, and ensure that American families, businesses, and hospitals are able to make the deliveries and receive the products that we all need,” Mullen said. “Their efforts have been inspirational and should make all Americans proud.”
“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,” Chao added.
Although many in the industry point to safety when referencing these new regulations, it does seem that the savings, as mentioned by Chao, are at the forefront of the reform’s reasoning. Many in opposition to the hours-of-service changes have pointed out that driver fatigue is an increasing, and often deadly, problem in the trucking industry, and that allowing truckers more flexibility in choosing break and resting time lengths as well as the ability to drive for longer periods of time will increase the amount of trucker fatigue–and accidents–on the roads.
Also missing from the final rule is a provision that would pause a trucker’s driving window. This proposed change, which was included in the August proposal, would have called for an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours. This would have paused a trucker’s 14-hour diving period (as long as the driver takes 10 consecutive off-duty hours after his or her shift).