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Proposed Rule Changes for Hours-of-Service: What’s Your Opinion?

By Sean M. Lyden - Staff Writer
Posted Sep 9th 2019 10:07AM

Improved safety. Greater flexibility. Increased productivity.

These are the key reasons why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently published proposed changes to hours of service (HOS) rules.

“We listened directly to the concerns of drivers for rules that are safer and have more flexibility—and we have acted. We encourage everyone to review and comment on this proposal,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez said in the announcement.

But what exactly are the proposed rule changes? What has been the response in the industry? And where can you go to voice your opinion?

The Proposed Revisions
FMCSA’s proposal outlines these five changes to the HOS rules:

  1. Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time, without 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  5. Lengthen the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extend the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Industry Response
What does the industry think about the proposed changes?

The reviews are mixed.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) issued a statement supporting the proposal.

“There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but the proposed changes are a positive start since truckers don’t have any control over their schedules or traffic conditions. For too long and too often, they find themselves in unsafe circumstances because of current, overly restrictive rules that decrease highway safety,” says Todd Spencer, President of OOIDA.

But Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, came out against the proposal in a statement.

“Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is staunchly opposed to the proposed changes in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published this morning by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) which would significantly weaken hours-of-service (HOS) rules. Current HOS rules already allow truck drivers to maintain demanding schedules of up to 11 hours behind the wheel during a 14-hour workday. On this existing schedule, truckers can drive up to 77 hours in seven days, double the average American workweek. Any proposal that increases pressure on truck drivers, opens new opportunities for abuse of the rules, and further endangers truck drivers and all those who share the roads with them should be rejected," says Chase.

Chase’s statement outlines five specific concerns with the proposed rule changes:

  • Short-Haul Exemption: "The proposal would extend the short-haul driving window from 12 hours to 14 hours and would expand the radius of operations from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. These proposals, coupled with existing exemptions for short-haul drivers, increase the likelihood of abuse or fraud related to HOS compliance."
  • Adverse Driving Conditions: “Drivers already have flexibility for managing unexpected and adverse driving conditions including personal conveyance allowances which can be used to pull off the road safely once one’s HOS limits are reached. Extending this window by two additional hours will put truck drivers on the roads during perilous conditions, endangering both them and everyone on the roads, and could also increase the opportunity for abuse of this exemption.”
  • 30-Minute Break: "This proposed change ties the 30-minute rest break to driving time as opposed to on-duty time. The proposal would also no longer require 'breaks' to be taken off-duty. Therefore, a driver could complete their entire workday without ever having an off-duty break."
  • Sleeper Berth: “The current sleeper berth rule requires two sleeper berth periods. One of at least eight hours, and one of at least two hours. The proposal would shorten the first sleeper berth period to seven hours, exacerbating an already known, widespread problem of truck driver fatigue. The proposal would also allow the second sleeper berth period of two hours or more to extend the driving window, pushing driving time into later shift hours which is known to be associated with higher crash risks.”
  • Split Duty Provision: "This proposal would allow drivers to 'pause' their duty clock by 30 minutes and up to three hours, allowing a driver to have a driving window of up to 17 hours. Research shows that driving later in the duty period is associated with higher crash risks.

Response from Expediters
What’s the potential impact on expedite owner-operators?

EO spoke with Linda Caffee (team owner-operator with her husband Bob) and Greg Huggins (a solo owner-operator) to get their take.

“I don't like any of the changes,” says Caffee.

What’s a specific example?

“Right now with the half-hour break you can't fuel the truck,” says Caffee. “You can't do any of that because you are time-stamped on fueling. So, when we have to take a half-hour break, we have to take a half-hour break and then fuel the truck before or after. You can't get the truck washed or do anything else during that time.”

Caffee continues, "But, now, they are changing the rule to "Okay, you take a half-hour break, but, during that break, you should fuel your truck, get it washed, and do whatever you need to stay legal. So, to me, [the new rules] are saying you don't need the half-hour break to clear your mind. The only thing that really ends up taking a break is the truck because we can now be expected to fuel the truck or do everything else during that time."

Greg Huggins’ take?

“I would be fine if [the FMCSA] would stop proposing things and just leave things alone,” says Huggins. “If you just leave [the rules] alone, people wouldn't be so confused over what they are when they're always changing.

Any thoughts on specific changes?

"The 'stopping the clock' thing I'm not a big fan of because, if you give me more available hours, then the value of those hours just decreased," says Huggins. "If the customer knows that they've got an extra three hours to waste my time, then those hours are useless. They're worthless. So, currently, customers have been aware that once the 14-hour clock starts, there's no stopping it. And if you want your stuff to get there, you'd better be as timely as possible [with getting the truck unloaded]. But with [the proposed rule change], you're just giving customers an extra three hours, where you could wait."

Voicing Your Opinion
What’s your take on the proposed HOS rule changes?

The FMCSA's public comment period ends October 7, 2019. So, if you'd like to provide your comments to policymakers before the deadline, click on this link: