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October 1, 2019 12:00 PM, EDT

FMCSA Advisory Committee Offers Tough Questions on HOS Proposed Rule

Administrator Ray Martinez Deems Meeting 'Honest, Non-Confrontational'
Driver behind the wheel Getty Images

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WASHINGTON — For more than a month, drivers, motor carriers and other trucking stakeholders have been commenting on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s revised proposed hours-of-service rule designed to give drivers more flexibility on the ways they spend their days behind the wheel.

And on Sept. 30, members of the agency’s diverse advisory committee took their turn.

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez

Martinez

The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee had lots of questions about the major changes proposed for the rule, but no angry words were spoken by its 25 members. They range from police officers and safety groups to union officials and trucking trade organization representatives.

“This is exactly what we hope for in these MCSAC meetings — an honest, non-confrontational, open discussion of issues that are important to everybody around the table,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said after the meeting. “What I’m really surprised by is, I think there is an acknowledgment that flexibility was needed, and that the flexibility can actually add to safety.”

He continued: “The devil is in the details and that’s why they’ve been going through each of the proposals, to see which ones make sense, and a kind of flushing out for some of the members of what’s the practical effect.”

FMCSA advisory committee

Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee by FMCSA

The proposal, announced Aug. 14, would allow truck drivers more flexibility with their 30-minute rest break and with dividing their time in the sleeper berth. It also would extend by two hours the duty time for drivers encountering adverse weather and extend the shorthaul exemption by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 hours to 14 hours and increasing the distance limit in which drivers can operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Among questions on the proposal asked by MCSAC:

• Would the proposal to allow drivers to add two hours of driving time to their day when they need to stop due to adverse weather or extreme traffic congestion be susceptible to abuse?

• Would extending the distance and time for shorthaul carriers cause more accidents?

• Why doesn’t the proposal permit drivers to take three 10-minute breaks rather than one 30-minute break?

• Why does the proposed rule not allow drivers to split their sleeper berth time six-and-four hours or five-and-five hours, rather than limiting the split to eight-and-two hours or seven-and-three hours?

• Will shippers disregard some of the hours-of-service changes, making it difficult for drivers to get the proper rest?

Those questions offer “food for thought,” said Martinez, who encouraged commenters to offer data to support their positions.

FMCSA Proposed Hours-of-Ser... by Transport Topics on Scribd

“I thought the meeting went very well,” said John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition and chairman of the advisory committee. “There were surprises. People obviously have their viewpoints. But I think it’s helpful when you hear the rationale from all different sides. I thought it was a good dialogue in terms of where things are and that it was good for the agency to hear some of our views.”

“The truth is you have people and groups that you might think would be diametrically opposed on some things, and you find out that they may actually agree on how we get there,” Martinez said. “In some instances we have people that, but for MCSAC, would never meet with each other, or have the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations unless they were all called before a congressional committee.”

The agency is seeking written comments on the proposed rule through Oct. 21.

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