The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on May 14 published a long-awaited final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules for commercial motor vehicle drivers that offer the industry more flexibility.
The final rule, two years in the making, adopts four of the five provisions put forth in last year’s 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 Rule-making to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads. In August 2019, the agency published a detailed proposed rule.
FMCSA waded through some 8,000 comments, as well as the feedback from multiple listening sessions held around the country, according to Jim Mullen, FMCSA’s acting administrator.
In making the announcement, Mullen and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao both cited the extraordinary role truck drivers have played during the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service makes four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:
The 30-minute break rule:
This requires a break after no more than eight hours of consecutive driving, can now be satisfied by the on-duty or not driving status, rather than off-duty status. That means a driver’s “break” could be satisfied by stopping to fuel the truck, for instance. This change accounts for the majority of the $274 million the agency estimates the rule will save each year for the U.S. economy.
The sleeper berth rules:
These allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: a seven to two split, or a seven to three split — with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
When asked why the split sleeper berth did not extend to the type of even split that was allowed under older HOS rules, Mullen said, “The research studies on sleep as of this time we didn’t feel were fully supportive of going any further than seven and three.’’
John Lyboldt, president of Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), thanked the agency for the additional sleeper berth flexibility.
“While TCA and our members advocate for full flexibility in the sleeper berth for our drivers, FMCSA’s new regulations demonstrate that we are one step closer to achieving that goal.’
Adverse driving conditions exception:
This extends by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted. The current rule allows for an extra two hours of driving time, but it still had to be within the maximum 14-hour workday. The new rule allows the workday to be extended to as much as 16 hours in the case of adverse conditions such as extreme weather or congestion.
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.
Agency officials emphasized that the rule changes do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent commercial motor vehicle operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.
One change that was included in last August’s proposed rule that did not make the final cut was allowing an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour on-duty window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift. This would allow, for instance, drivers to take up to a three-hour break to wait out rush hour, without it affecting their maximum on-duty time.
When asked why this provision was omitted from the final rule, Mullen said that based on comments received, “the split sleeper berth provides essentially the equivalent, if not more flexibility, in that regard.” So if a driver wanted to take up to a three-hour break to wait out rush hour, for instance, he or she could take that as split sleeper berth time.
“No rule will satisfy everyone, even within our industry, but this one — crafted with a tremendous amount of input and data — is a good example of how by working with stakeholders on all sides, government can craft a rule that simultaneously benefits the industry, specifically drivers, and maintains highway safety,” Randy Guillot, chairman of American Trucking Associations (ATA) and president of Triple G Express Inc. in New Orleans, La.
“The agency should be commended for its efforts and we appreciate its willingness to listen throughout this process,’’ Guillot said
The new hours of service rule will have an implementation date of 120 days after publication in the Federal Register. The final rule was expected to be published in the Federal Register in late May.