Short-Haul Gains In Hours of Service Rules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Annette Sandberg said the agency responded to safety first in developing Hours of Service Rules, but “we try never to lose sight of the operational realities of our complex national transportation system.” FMCSA was directed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to reexamine its Hours of Service Rules and address driver health as Congress had indicated when requiring the rules revision.

While changes in the overall regulations were minor, according to Sandberg, she responded to questions about the financial impact of the new rules saying “There is an economic benefit to the industry overall of $270 million.” That benefit accrues to the short-haul segment to the tune of $280 million. There is, according to Sandberg, a cost of $10 million that will be borne by the long-haul segment because of the changes in the sleeper berth provision.

Key changes in the sleeper berth provision include the requirement that drivers using a sleeper berth (including team drivers) must take eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth as part of their required 10 hours off duty. The other two hours can be spent outside the berth. In all cases, drivers are required to have 10 consecutive hours of off duty time.

The 11-hour drive-time limit was retained in the new rules, as was the 14-hour duty time. The 34-hour recovery provision of the 2003 rules was also retained. Drivers who have reached the 60-hours of on-duty time in a consecutive seven-day period or drivers who have reached 70 hours in an eight-day period can restart the duty period by taking 34 consecutive hours off duty.

One of the most striking changes in the rules was a short-haul provision that allows drivers “whose duties are conducted solely within a 150 air radius from their terminals,” to extend their duty window by two hours twice per week. This does not increase their driving limit beyond the 11 hours per day, but it gives them two 16-hour work days – still subject to the 60- and 70-hour on-duty limits for seven and eight days, respectively.

“Within these two 16-hour work days, drivers will be allowed to drive up to 11 hours, and each work day must be preceded by at least 10 consecutive hours off duty,” Sandberg explained. “On the other days of the week, these drivers may drive up to 11 hours in a 14-hour window after coming on duty.”

The new short-haul rule applies to, “drivers of commercial vehicles that do not require a commercial drivers license to operate – generally vehicles of less than 26,001 pounds gross vehicle weight,” Sandberg clarified. Those drivers will not have to keep a “record of duty status” (log book), but the employing motor carrier must maintain driver time records for six months.

The rules are scheduled to go into effect October 1, 2005, but the National Industrial Transportation League (NITL) has cautioned its members that they are subject to a legal challenge in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters has called the new rules “a major setback for highway safety,” and Public Citizen, another of the opponents of the earlier rules, concluded its statement saying, “We sincerely hope that in the coming weeks the agency will reconsider this issue and redraft the rule.”

While a court challenge may be likely, industry sources suggest the FMCSA has a “pretty bullet proof set of rules.”

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