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Parked Trucks Hours Of Service

FMCSA Rolls Out New Hours of Service Rules for Truck Drivers

May 14, 2020
The latest rules aim to provide more flexibility to drivers while still keeping the highways safe.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has published what it is calling a “final rule” updating hours of service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers and other commercial motor vehicle drivers. This would be the third “final rule” of this century, not counting other tweaks to the rules. At this point, it’s probably more accurate to say these are the current rules, pending any future changes under future Administrations.

At any rate, the new HOS rules are designed to “improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry,” according to FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen.

The HOS rules date back to 1937 under the aegis of the now-defunct Interstate Commerce Commission, and were almost immediately challenged and then updated. The basic idea, though, has always been to reassure people that the roads they drive on are not being shared with drowsy, overworked truck drivers hauling huge rigs on the highways. At the same time, the companies paying the drivers’ salaries and managing the freight being hauled needed to be assured that they wouldn’t go broke having to hire more drivers or purchase more trucks if their drivers were required to take regular breaks that involved parking their rigs or switching off with another driver.

The rules being updated were put into effect under the Obama Administration, which was updating the previous rules put into effect under the George W. Bush Administration. The new rules, of course, are being put into effect under the Trump Administration. Given that pattern, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume the next Democratic President might be of mind to consider reverting the HOS rules back to the Obama era rules.

The new rules, the FMCSA emphasized, took into consideration “thousands of comments from the American people,” and features four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:

● FMCSA has modified the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.

● The sleeper-berth exception has been modified to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split or a 7/3 split, with neither period counting against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.

● FMCSA has modified the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

● FMCSA has lengthened the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers so that the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period is now 14 hours (previously 12), and the agency has extended the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

FMCSA estimates that its new rules will provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy. The trucking industry employs more than seven million people and moving 70% of the nation’s domestic freight.

Predictably, the American Trucking Associations (which represents the interests of the major trucking companies) gave the new rules a thumbs-up.“This rule is the result of a two-year, data-driven process and it will result in needed flexibility for America’s professional truck drivers while maintaining the safety of our roads,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the ATA.

Randy Guillot, chairman of the ATA and president of Triple G Express, added, “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.”

Not surprisingly, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (which represents the interests of unionized truck drivers) denounced the new rules. “In an effort to increase so-called ‘flexibility’ for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further,” said Jim Hoffa, the Teamsters’ general president.

“Extending the work day to 14 hours for CDL-qualified short haul drivers will result in an increase in occupational injuries and driver fatigue,” added Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ Safety and Health Department. “We are also concerned with the revised rest break provision. This revised rule could allow a driver to spend hours performing physically demanding work and then drive up to eight hours without having to take a break.”

The new rules are scheduled to be implemented 120 days after publication in the Federal Register. The complete final rule is available here

The likelihood that these “final rules” will be challenged and modified in the not-too-distant future would appear to be rather high.

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