Trucking industry welcomes proposal to change hours of service regulation

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 990 views 

Trade organizations in the trucking industry praised the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for looking to change to the hours of service rule as a means to improve highway safety and flexibility for drivers.

The federal agency published Wednesday (Aug. 14) proposed changes to the rule after receiving more than 5,200 public comments to revise it. In 2018, the federal agency sought public comment after issuing a notice it would look to change the rule. The public will have 45 days to submit comments on the proposed changes.

“FMCSA wants drivers and all [commercial motor vehicle] stakeholders to share their thoughts and opinions on the proposed changes to hours of service rules that we are putting forward today,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez. “We listened directly to the concerns of drivers for rules that are safer and have more flexibility — and we have acted.”

Following are the key proposed changes:

  • Modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10-hours of off-duty time into two periods. One period must include at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours must be either off duty or in the sleeper berth. The two periods would not count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • Tie the 30-minute break requirement to eight hours of driving time and to allow the break to be taken while a driver is on duty but not driving as opposed to off duty
  • Allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes but not more than three hours that would pause the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • Extend by two hours the time a driver is allowed to drive as part of the adverse driving conditions exception
  • Change the short-haul exception to increase drivers’ on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extend the distance limit a driver can drive from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

The proposed changes are expected to provide $274 million in savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers, according to the FMCSA. The rule changes will not increase driving time and would continue to restrict drivers from driving more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break, according to the federal agency.

“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

In a note on the proposed changes, analysts Jack Atkins and Scott Schoenhaus, both of Little Rock-based Stephens Inc., said the changes were in line with expectations and might add some capacity to the nearly $700 billion trucking industry. However, the rise in capacity is expected to be more than offset by the final conversion from automatic on-board recording devices to electronic logging devices (ELDs) in mid-December and the start of the National Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in early 2020.

Atkins and Schoenhaus expect the final rule to go into effect in two or three months.

Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said she could not comment on whether the organization supports the proposed changes. She said the ATA needs time to better understand them and discuss them with its members. However, the organization supports the opportunity to work with the FMCSA about changing the rules to allow for more flexibility without reducing safety, and the proposed changes look to be in line with this.

“Electronic logging data has provided safety officials with more information to better regulate the industry,” Newton said. “We are committed to studying these proposed revisions and visiting with our members to learn how trucking and the safety of our nation’s highways might be improved with a good final rule.

“Our organization has a long history of advocating for hours of service compliance enforcement through electronic logs,” she said. “Many of our members have believed that the data would help prescribe hours of service that support real-world scenarios, driver fatigue and time management without compromising safety. With the implementation of ELDs last year, the need to discuss issues pertaining to hours of service became apparent.”

Chris Spear, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations (ATA), commended Chao and Martinez for the open and data-driven process to update the rule.

“We look forward to studying and understanding how these proposed changes will impact our industry so we can provide relevant data and information to strengthen and support a good final rule that bolsters safety and provides drivers needed flexibility,” Spear said. “ATA intends to fully review these proposed changes so we can shape a strong rule for our drivers, our industry and the motoring public.”

The rule was previously revised 15 years ago, and “we as an industry have learned a great deal about how these rules impact our drivers,” said ATA Chairman Barry Pottle, who is president of Pottle’s Transportation. “The valuable experience and data we’ve gained over that time will make it easier to provide flexibility for drivers to get additional rest and find parking while keeping our highways safe.”

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) encouraged its members and the trucking industry to comment on the proposed rule by using data from ELDs. The TCA also encouraged those who comment to use the data to seek to allow for full sleeper-berth flexibility and improve drivers’ workdays, safety and eliminate any burdens that impede commerce in the United States.

“We applaud the agency’s efforts to create safety-first, data-driven regulations,” said John Lyboldt, president of the Truckload Carriers Association. “The initiative to reduce roadway fatalities represents an industry lift for which TCA is committed to uniting with our federal agency partners.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) thanked the FMCSA for listening to truck drivers’ concerns and noted that the proposed rule changes help drivers to avoid heavy traffic, bad weather and other issues.

“Truckers have families and want to get home safely just like everyone else,” said Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA. “They are the most knowledgeable, highway safety advocates, and the agency’s proposal, overall, recognizes that fact.

“Over the past decade, truck drivers have been more regulated than ever, and more compliant than ever, and yet crashes are going up,” he said. “We have pushed for flexibility in hours of service regulations for years, long before the current administration.”

The proposal to change the hours of service rules came after a 2017 executive order from the White House that agencies reduce regulations on U.S. residents. In May 2018, five months after the start of the ELD mandate, Martinez received a letter signed by 30 senators asking for more flexibility in the hours of service rule, according to trade publication Transport Topics.

“There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but the proposed changes are a positive start since truckers don’t have any control over their schedules or traffic conditions,” Spencer said. “For too long and too often, they find themselves in unsafe circumstances because of current, overly restrictive rules that decrease highway safety.”

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