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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Aug. 14 issued a long-awaited proposal to make changes to its hours-of-service rules that would increase truck drivers’ flexibility with their 30-minute rest break and with allocating time in a sleeper berth.
The proposal also would extend by two hours duty time for drivers encountering adverse weather and expand the current 100 air-mile “shorthaul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, consistent with workday rules for longhaul truck drivers.
The agency will accept comments on the proposal for 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register, scheduled for Aug. 20.
In the proposal, FMCSA offers five key revisions to existing HOS rules:
- Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption of at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
- Modify the sleeper berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off-duty into two periods: One period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off-duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
- Allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
- Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
- Change the shorthaul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a statement.
During an Aug. 14 telephone news conference, FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez said the proposed changes represent a, “commonsense approach to crafting hours-of-service regulations that are more flexible for truck drivers and promote safety for all who share the road.”
He added that the proposed changes are intended to help drivers better manage challenges in their daily schedules. “That is congestion, parking issues — unexpected adverse conditions that may arise,” he said. “They need some level of flexibility that allows them to work around. Many of them felt they were racing the clock with those AOBRDs or ELDs. We hope that providing this type of flexibility puts a little more power back in the hands of drivers and carriers to make smart decisions with regard to safety and the realities of what they’re facing on the roadways.”
Martinez said he could not predict how long the process of analyzing stakeholder comments and fashioning a final rule would take, but is optimistic about timing. “We believe we are ahead of schedule,” he said.
FMCSA said none of the proposals in the NPRM would increase the maximum allowable driving time, but may change the number of hours driven or hours worked during a given work shift. “The flexibilities in this proposal are intended to allow drivers to shift their drive and work time to mitigate the impacts of certain variables (e.g., weather, traffic, detention times) and to take the proposed changes would not result in an increase in freight movement or aggregate vehicle miles traveled. Aggregate VMT is determined by many factors, including market demand for transportation,” the proposal said.
The agency said it did not anticipate that the proposed HOS changes would stimulate demand in the freight market, nor does it expect that any of the time shifts would negatively impact drivers’ health.
The proposal was issued at the same time as the annual National Truck Driving Championships, and drivers at the event shared with Transport Topics largely positive reactions to the proposed changes.
“With traffic becoming worse and worse all the time and not having flexibility, [it] causes a lot more aggressive driving with truckers,” said Ina Daly, a driver for XPO Logistics. “ELDs in general are a good thing. I really appreciate a lot of things [FMCSA has] done, but they do need to be more flexible.”
Hinkes speaks to TT. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)
Gerald Wrinkle, a driver for Walmart Transportation, welcomed the proposed changes to adverse driving conditions. Based in Kentucky, Wrinkle said he sometimes encounters inclement weather in Michigan and Ohio.
Michael Hinkes, a driver for Alaska-based Carlile Transportation Systems, commended the proposed revision to the split-sleeper rule, but said he supports even more flexibility for dividing the time. “Seven and three [hours] will be nice,” he said. “I think that’ll be a plus. I think making a change that you can vary it up works [well]. If they change it, I think it’ll be a positive thing.”
Associate News Editor Dan Ronan contributed to this report.