Aiming to improve safety by reducing truck driver fatigue, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued new hour-of-service (HOS) regulations. These regulations, which were first announced in December 2011, went into effect on July 1, 2013. The basic premise of the rules is simple: the average workweek for truck drivers is limited to 70 hours to ensure that all operators have adequate rest. But practical application of the rules has proven confusing and concerning for many carriers. In fact, a recent survey by the American Transportation Research Institute (the research arm of the American Trucking Associations), listed the new hours-of-service regulations as their top concern.
What Has Changed?
According to the FMCSA, the three main changes to the rules are:
- The “34-hour restart” is limited to once a week (168 hours). Under this new rule, drivers cannot take a restart break until 168 consecutive hours (7 days) since the start of their last 34-hour break. Restarts are still optional for drivers who don’t reach the 60- or 70-hour limit. Restarts can be taken in any location, but according to J.J. Keller & Associates, a company that specializes in safety and regulatory compliance, the break must “based on the time standard in effect at the driver’s home terminal.”
- The restart must include 2 night periods between 1:00-5:00 a.m. During a restart, drivers must get two periods of rest between 1:00-5:00 a.m., even if they if they typically work during that time. An example restart: a driver can go off duty from 7:00 p.m. on Saturday until 5:00 a.m. on Monday. The break includes the hours from 1:00-5:00 a.m. on both Sunday and Monday mornings and lasts for at least 34 hours.
- No driving if more than 8 hours since last break of 30 or more minutes. After 8 consecutive hours on duty, drivers must take a 30-minute break—any kind of off-duty or sleeper berth time is OK—before driving again. No break is required for those driving less than 8 hours. The rule only applies to property-carrying commercial moving vehicle (CMV) drivers, and there are some exceptions to the rule, including provisions for certain drivers carrying Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 explosives.
In addition to these three changes, the new rules also clarify the distinction between on-duty and off duty time. They specifically note that “any time resting in a parked vehicle, or up to 2 hours in the passenger seat of a moving property-carrying CMV, immediately before or after 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth is not considered on-duty time. That said, the driver must be released from all responsibility for the vehicle in order for the time to be logged as off-duty. The passenger seat section of the new definition may help team drivers, according to J.J. Keller & Associates, since property-carrying CMV drivers who spend up to two hours riding in a passenger seat immediately before or after an 8-hour sleeper-berth period can record that time as “off duty” AND be excluded from the 14-hour work day calculation.
The changes also exclude waiting times in oilfield operations in the calculation of the driving window, and allow (but don't require) violations of the new rules to be treated as egregious violations and subject to the maximum civil penalties.
Who is Affected?
According to the FMCSA, the new federal hours-of-service rules apply to drivers and motor carriers who are operating commercial motor vehicles and either:
- Are engaged in interstate commerce and have to comply with the FMCSA’s (federal) safety regulations in 49 CFR Part 395; or
- Are engaged in intrastate commerce — conducted entirely within a single state — and that state has adopted and enforces the new federal HOS regulations.
The rules pertain mostly to property-carrying drivers. The “on-duty” definition and penalty provisions are the only changes that apply to passenger-carrying drivers.
Most drivers (85%) will not be affected by the changes, states the FMCSA, since the new rules concern those who work more than 70 hours a week on a continuing basis.
Why Were the Regulations Changed?
"These fatigue-fighting rules for truck drivers were carefully crafted based on years of scientific research and unprecedented stakeholder outreach," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro. Breaks from driving, especially off-duty breaks, have been shown to reduce safety risks from 30- to 50-percent for up to an hour after the driver’s break. "The result is a fair and balanced approach,” said Ferro, “that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives." In their July 2013 press release, the FMCSA estimated that the new regulations would save 19 lives and prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year.
Will the Rules Remain?
Carriers are concerned about the new rules’ cost to their industry, and legislators about the cost to the economy. On October 31st, a bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) was introduced in the U.S. House. If passed, The True Understanding of the Economy and Safety Act (TRUE Safety Act) would:
- Allow truckers to abide by the 34-hour restart rules that were in place before July 1, 2013.
- Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an independent assessment of the methodology FMCSA used to come up with the new 34-hour restart rule.
- Delay implementation of the new 34-hour restart rule until six months after GAO submits its assessment to Congress.
A counterpart bill was introduced to the Senate on December 20th 2013 by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) Congressman Hanna said he had introduced the bill so that Congress and the GAO could “ensure the rule makes sense and will not actually harm the traveling public and the American economy.”
Chandler Magann is president at Next Exit Logistics LLC.