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April 4, 2019 6:00 PM, EDT

Editorial: Starting the Clock on HOS Reform

The Department of Transportation has taken an important first step in potential reform of the hours-of-service rules that regulate how much time truck drivers can spend behind the wheel, and we’re glad to see it.

Transport Topics was on-site at the Mid-America Trucking Show March 28-30 when DOT Secretary Elaine Chao announced that her agency had delivered to the federal Office of Management and Budget a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that lays out potential changes to the rules, which are administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The translation from all of that Washington-speak is that DOT has a list of possible changes to HOS ready to go, and this proposal will be made public in the weeks to come. In terms of a time frame, we can expect to see it within 30 to 90 days.

We already know some of what regulators are targeting. In a preliminary release issued in August (an Advance NPRM in regulatory parlance), FMCSA listed the 30-minute rest break, the adverse driving exception and the 100 air-mile shorthaul exemption as rules that could undergo review. When the final proposal is released, there could be more.

That seems possible, given the amount of attention paid to the preliminary proposal. More than 5,200 public comments were received, and five listening sessions were held so that industry stakeholders could have their say.

When you consider that FMCSA saw fit to invest so much effort gathering information at the early stage, it’s fair to presume that it’s committed to a thorough review. It has heard from the industry, and knows the industry wants change.

The agency’s 2017 adoption of the electronic logging device mandate has made HOS compliance more accountable than ever. With the increased transparency ELDs have brought, we submit that it’s appropriate to consider common-sense changes to the HOS rules that increase drivers’ and fleets’ flexibility in managing those working hours.

Technology is making tracking hours of service a lot easier, but we still need drivers behind the wheel to deliver the cargo. Creating a regulatory framework where drivers are empowered to structure their days so they can make these deliveries safely and on-time is, arguably, the goal of this review. And we think it’s a goal worth reaching for.