J.B. Hunt, other large carriers likely to benefit from flexible hours of service

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 564 views 

Flexibility in hours-of-service rules are expected to benefit several large carriers, including Lowell-based J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and they could save more than $150 million and almost 2.3 million hours of drive time, analysts said.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to review several hours-of-service rules for carriers. Respondent had until Monday (Sept. 24) to submit comments on the proposed rulemaking, but analysts Stefaine Miller and Hunter Hammond, both of Height Securities, believe the deadline will be extended to Oct. 24.

“The rules have become salient in the last six months as trucks have been required to adopt electronic logging devices (ELDs), a shift from the old system of paper logs,” according to Miller and Hammond. “Of the six rules under consideration, we believe flexibility in split sleeper berth time and an elimination of the mandatory 30-minute break are most likely.”

Trade organization Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed a petition in February seeking changes to the hours-of-service rule after its members had concerns about regulations that require them to drive while tired, during busy travel times or in adverse weather or road conditions, according the organization. OOIDA wants drivers to be able to take rest breaks once per 14-hour period for up to three consecutive hours as long as the driver is off-duty. The organization also wants to eliminate the 30-minute break requirement, which is required after eight hours of on-duty time.

“The hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers need to be updated to match the realities of freight movement and to truly improve highway safety,” said OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “The trucking industry is in a situation where we have never had more regulations and greater enforcement and compliance. Yet, truck-related crash numbers are going in the wrong direction. It’s time for a new approach.”

The Kansas City, Mo.-based organization also supports proposed legislation that would allow drivers to take one rest break per shift for up to three consecutive hours. This off-duty period would not be counted toward the driver’s 14-hour, on-duty allowance. The bill, The Responsible and Effective Standards for Truckers, or REST Act, would not extend the total, allowable drive time limits. U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, introduced the bill, which has been referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

“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 hours-of-service regulations,” Spencer said. “This rulemaking needs robust participation from real truckers so that the next incarnation of the hours-of-service regulations is not written by corporate trucking executives and anti-trucking groups that have no understanding of the realities of over-the-road trucking.”

As of Sept. 24, the FMCSA had received 2,390 comments on the proposed rulemaking. Miller and Hammond expect the federal agency to release a notice for proposed rulemaking with a proposal that reflects the comments in the second half of 2019. They expect the agency to issue a final rule in 2020.

Along with what the OOIDA would like to see changed with the hours-of-service rule, the FMCSA is also taking comment on the following proposals:
• To allow short-haul drivers, or those operating within 100 miles, to have 14 hours of on-duty time, instead of the existing 12 hours;
• Increase on-duty driving time to 16 hours from 14 hours for adverse driving conditions: and
• Allow flexibility in how drivers can split the required 10 hours of off-duty time in a sleeper berth.

The proposals regarding sleeper berth flexibility and the elimination or modification of the 30-minute rest break are supported by U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and the committee also wants reform. Also, TruckerNation supports the elimination of the 30-minute rest break. Changes to both rules are expected to create less of an incentive for drivers to drive faster to avoid a required break or highway congestion, according Miller and Hammond.

“Flexibility in any of the (hours-of-service) rules would be an important win for motor carriers like J.B. Hunt, Knight-Swift, Old Dominion and Schneider National,” Miller and Hammond said. “Split sleeper berth provisions, however, have the potential to be incredibility important. A study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that allowing drivers to split the mandatory 10-hour break flexibility could reduce truck operating costs by more than $150 million and save roughly 2.3 million hours of drive time.”

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