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DOT Considers Reopening Trucking Hours of Service Rules

ELD enforcement focuses attention on the need for greater flexibility.

Extraordinary pressures on truck driver productivity have driven the U.S. Department of Transportation to consider reopening its Hours of Service (HOS) regulations for interstate commercial drivers.

During an Aug. 21 news conference, Ray Martinez, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), discussed the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), which was issued in the form of a series of questions asking stakeholders to comment on a number of proposed changes.

A rarely-used administrative procedure, an ANPRM allows an agency to seek public reaction to a potential but not yet formulated proposal but does not guarantee that changes sought would be included in any further agency actions. By contrast, a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking contains the details of a regulation under development in the form and shape intended to become law.

The deadline for submitting comments is Sept. 24. FMCSA also held the first of what it said will be a series of listening sessions on Aug. 24 to gather input from truck drivers at the Great American Truck Show in Dallas.

“Basically, what we have been doing is listening to our stakeholders in our regulated community over the last few months with regard to Hours of Service, and what changes would they propose that would make sense and add flexibility,” Martinez said. “What we kept hearing was flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.”

Some will undoubtedly shudder at the notion of reopening this particular can of worms. The most recent changes took more than a decade of legal back-and-forth in the courts before they were adopted in their current form. Any proposed changes arising from the ANPRM are likely to draw opposition from Joan Claybrook’s Public Citizen organization and Parents Against Tired Truckers.

The time it took to adopt the most recent rules is one reason why they need a fresh look, according to Martinez “It’s been 15 years since the last look at Hours of Service,” he observed. “There have been great changes in how trucking is moving on the roadways.”

FMCSA noted that enforcement of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate starting at the beginning of the year has resulted in nearly 99% adoption by the trucking industry. However, at a time when the driver shortage and increased demand have seen trucking rates soar, the reduction in driver productivity created by ELDs has focused renewed attention on changing HOS regulations.

Martinez recently was sent a letter bearing the signatures of 30 Senators asserting their backing for greater flexibility in the design and application of the HOS regulations. “In addition, numerous pieces of legislation were proposed or introduced in both chambers of Congress to address reforming current regulations,” FMCSA said.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said the proposed changes “add some common sense into Hours of Service rules for truck drivers. Under the proposal, when a truck isn’t operating and a driver sleeps in a berth, that counts as ‘resting’—that isn’t always the case now.”

He added, “It would also eliminate complicated rules that effectively attempt to regulate incremental stops for restroom breaks and leg stretching. One-size-fits-all regulations don’t always make much sense, and changing them will bring us a step closer to letting truckers safely and efficiently comply with all requirements.”

Truckers Open to Change

Chris Spear president of the American Trucking Associations, commented, “ATA stands ready to work with drivers and motor carriers to provide FMCSA and DOT with the information they need to make needed, common-sense improvements to the HOS rules in order to improve the safety of our highways and the efficiency of our industry.”

Agriculture is one of the industries that have requested changes in the rules. Groups hailing the FMCSA’s action include the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and National Pork Producers Council. Legislation already had been introduced in both the House and the Senate to allow agriculture greater flexibility.

Among the areas where FMCSA is considering revision are:

•          Expanding the current 100 air-mile :short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;

•          Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions;

•          Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8-hours of continuous driving; and

•          Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.

FMCSA also seeks comment and relevant data regarding petitions that have been filed with the agency by driver groups requesting regulatory relief pertaining to the 14-hour on-duty limitation and the 10-hour off-duty requirement.

Seeking relief from the 14-hour on-duty limitation is the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association. “The agency is finally listening, and now the door is open for truckers to make their voices heard and to spur real, common-sense changes to the HOS regulations,” said Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA. “This rulemaking needs robust participation from real truckers so that the next incarnation of the HOS regulations is not written by corporate trucking executives and anti-trucking groups that have no understanding of the realities of over-the-road trucking.”

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