WASHINGTON – On September 17th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will hold a second listening session regarding changes to its hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers.
In the original August 23rd session in Dallas, commercial drivers suggested they be given new flexibility in their mandatory 30-minute rest breaks, and be allowed to split their 10-hour off-duty time in sleeper berths into an eight hour period of rest and two hours of non-driving.
The new proposal suggests drivers be able to break that time up into a 6-4 or 5-5 hour split–arguing that drivers should be able to decide how they use their non-working time, and that this be made clear in the new regulation.
It isn’t all about how to divide rest time, though: this proposed flexibility would also extend duty time for drivers working in inclement weather by two hours, as well as lengthen the maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and the distance limit from 100 air miles to 150.
Candace Marley, and independent contractor and company driver, said at the session that she believes 30 minutes is longer than needed for a break, explaining she favors shorter breaks more frequently. “Let’s encourage more movement throughout the day,” she plead.
ABF Freight System driver, Steve Smalley, said drivers making pickups and deliveries in urban areas need to drive more often, and explained that the mandatory 30-minute break “restricts [drivers].”
However, some are concerned the proposal’s definition of adverse conditions (e.g., severe weather) is not clear enough and that drivers may abuse the flexibility.
Riky Von Honaker, TX Loadrunners’ director of risk management, said he agrees drivers should make their own decisions, but worries some may want to use the review factor “for anything and everything.” He explained that a forecasted hurricane should not be considered an adverse condition, insinuating drivers may abuse the rule with such excuses to add more driving time to their routes.
During an early June roadcheck across the U.S. and Canada, 2,874 drivers were placed out of service for driver-related issues–over 37 percent of those were “Hours of Service” violations.
These new proposals come from the Trump Administration and trucking lobbyists’ beliefs surrounding regulation becoming too strict in regards to poor weather, heavy traffic, and drivers’ abilities to complete deliveries promptly.
Upon softening of these rules, truck drivers will not only need to stay on the road for hours longer, but safety measures will fall onto self-regulation by drivers themselves.
FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez said during a telephone news conference last month that these changes are meant to allow drivers to manage challenges in their day-to-day responsibilities on their own. “They need some level of flexibility that allows them to work around,” he said. “Many of them felt they were racing the clock with those AOBRDs or ELDs.” He explains that this proposal will hopefully put more power back into drivers’ hands and allow them “to make smart decisions with regard to safety.”
The question remains, though, is the ability to choose less sleep and longer driving hours better for drivers, or will it just increase potential transport revenue? Will drivers allow themselves sufficient rest? Will they use the review factor just to add more hours onto their timesheets, thus driving even longer with possibly fewer hours of sleep?
Although breaktime flexibility is understandable, there isn’t a way to ensure drivers will be getting the rest they need to drive safely and alertly with lenient non-driving period regulation.
After PBS found in July that 60 truckers involved in fatal crashes in 2017 were either asleep or extremely fatigued, these changes don’t appear as if they’ll make a positive impact. When the effects of exhaustion are this serious and common, extending hours seems to be the last thing commercial drivers need.
General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Jim Hoffa, opposed the changes in an August 14th press release. He expressed that the labor union has “serious concerns,” and that “the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further.”
Martinez admits this proposed flexibility will not be a cure-all for safety concerns in the trucking industry, but believes they will improve overall safety. He urges participants to submit their views and research–on both what they like and dislike about the proposal.
He also says he can’t predict how long it will take to analyze stakeholder comments and decide on a final rule, but currently believes they are ahead of schedule. “Don’t give up because of the length of this process,” he urges.
Those interested in the FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking can present their comments at the September 17th session at the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, which will stream online for remote participation as well.
Public comment is set to close October 7th; American Trucking Associations and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance are asking for a 30-day extension on this period. Submit thoughts on Hours-of-Service regulation changes to the Federal Register Docket here.