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July 1, 2019 12:30 PM, EDT

July 31 Is FMCSA’s New Target for Unveiling HOS Proposed Rule Change

Trucks on highway Utah Department of Transportation

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Those anticipating the Department of Transportation’s proposal on hours-of-service policy changes will have to wait a little longer.

DOT’s most recent Significant Rulemaking Report has been updated to reflect July 31 as the projected publication date for the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding HOS changes. A public comment period on the proposal is slated to end Sept. 16.

Initially, June 7 was listed as the “originally scheduled date” for publication, although the document was later amended to reflect just the month of June (rather than a specific date). Actual publication depends on the Office of Management and Budget’s review process, which could stretch on.

FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez

Martinez

DOT submitted the NPRM to the White House for review March 29 after Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials spent months combing through thousands of comments and gathering input on potential rule changes.

Although OMB continues to review the proposal, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez recently expressed optimism that it will be published soon. During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing June 19, Martinez said that the review process is “in the final stages.”

Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations, acknowledged that publication delays are relatively common for federal rulemaking proposals. He said ATA will participate in the public comment period that will open after the proposal is published.

“While it’s fairly common for these dates to shift — even by several weeks — we anticipate the release of the NPRM in the coming weeks and are ready to review with ATA’s Safety Policy Committee and provide detailed comments on what FMCSA proposes,” Horvath said.

“The timelines in the department’s regulatory updates serve as goals for the agency and are reflective of FMCSA’s plan to move quickly during this rulemaking process,” an FMCSA spokesman said. “The agency is hopeful the rule will be published soon.”

While the industry waits to see its contents, the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking DOT published Aug. 23, 2018, offers clues. That document included proposed changes to the shorthaul HOS limit, the HOS exception for adverse driving conditions, the 30-minute rest-break provision and the split sleeper berth rule to allow drivers to divide their required rest time in the sleeper berth.

The ANPRM garnered more than 5,200 responses by the time the comment period closed Oct. 10, 2018. FMCSA also hosted five listening sessions nationwide to gather industry feedback.

Four Questions

In its ANPRM, FMCSA sought answers from stakeholders in four general areas:

  •  Should the agency expand the current 100 air-mile “shorthaul” exemption from 12 hours on duty to 14 hours on duty, to be consistent with the workday rules for longhaul truck drivers?
  •  Is there adequate flexibility in the adverse driving exception that currently expands driving time by up to two hours?
  •  If the 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving did not exist, would drivers obtain adequate rest breaks throughout a daily driving period to relieve fatigue?
  •  Do you have information that would support reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks with sleeper-berth compartments?

During remarks at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition on Oct. 28, 2018, FMCSA Chief Counsel Jim Mullen said that the majority of respondents recommended eliminating the 30-minute rest break. Mullen noted many drivers claimed they don’t mind taking 30-minute breaks but would rather not be told when to take them.

Commenters also responded in favor of allowing drivers to divide their rest time in a sleeper berth instead of resting for 10 hours straight. The top vote among responders was for dividing rest hours into a 5/5 split.

Mullen acknowledged the plethora of sleep studies, which run the gamut of defending both long, restorative rest and short sleep breaks. A recent analysis from the American Transportation Research Institute supports this idea, suggesting that certain “innovative HOS concepts” could help drivers avoid congestion by taking strategic periods of rest.

The responses reflected a strong desire to extend the 100 air-mile “shorthaul” exemption to 150 air-miles, according to Mullen.

Respondents also supported adding two hours of driving time in the case of adverse conditions. Mullen said the agency also has decided to reassess what constitutes adverse conditions.