FMCSA updates hours of service rules; trucking industry welcomes changes

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 1,480 views 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, announced Thursday (May 14) a final rule updating the hours of service regulations for truck drivers after receiving more than 8,000 public comments on the changes.

The rule updates include four key revisions:

  • The 30-minute break requirement can be met by taking the break after eight hours of consecutive driving with the driver using on-duty, not driving status rather than being off duty.
  • The sleeper-berth exception has been modified to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods. They can be completed in eight-hour and two-hour periods or seven-hour and three-hour periods. Neither period will count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • The adverse driving conditions exception will be extended by two hours for the maximum window in which driving is allowed.
  • The agency will change the short-haul exception by increasing the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit the driver can operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the rule changes don’t increase driving time and prevent the driving of more than eight consecutive hours without a 30-minute break.

“America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time, and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving,” Chao said.

The FMCSA announced the changes after receiving more than 8,000 public comments on them from stakeholders and thousands of hours of work, said Jim Mullen, acting administrator for the FMCSA.

“The Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration listened directly to the concerns of truckers seeking rules that are safer and have more flexibility — and we have acted,” Mullen said. “These updated hours of service rules are based on the thousands of comments we received from the American people. These reforms will improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry.”

Trade group American Trucking Associations welcomed the rule updates.

“Today’s rule is the result of a two-year, data-driven process, and it will result in needed flexibility for America’s professional truck drivers while maintaining the safety of our roads,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said. “We appreciate the time and attention President Trump, Secretary Chao and Administrator Mullen have paid to our industry and to this regulation, which while maintaining the core limitations on drivers’ work and rest cycles, makes smart changes to portions of the rules.”

In 2018, the agency sought the comments on the hours of service rule to reduce burdens on drivers while maintaining safety on roads and highways. In 2019, the agency published a proposed rule.

“ATA has been engaged in this rulemaking process from the beginning, and we are thrilled to see a final rule come to fruition,” said Dan Horvath, ATA vice president of safety policy. “Through numerous agency meetings and discussions with ATA’s Safety Policy Committee, we have been engaged with FMCSA since this proposal was first introduced. While the final rule does not include all of our comments, we will continue to work with [the] agency to ensure that (hours of service) regulations are consistent with ATA’s commitment to safety.”

Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the organization has been speaking with its members to understand the new rules and how they will be received. All of the responses, she said, have been supportive of the agency’s response to the trucking industry’s call to improve flexibility for drivers without affecting safety.

“The importance of the hours of service to the trucking industry cannot be overstated,” Newton said. “Those are essentially the rules of engagement for how our industry maintains safety, manages drivers and meets our customer’s demands. So any changes are expected to have substantial meaning to the industry.”

The final rule is similar to the proposed rules that were previously released, Newton said. “Based on the comments filed by the American Trucking Associations, there were no changes we had hoped for or anticipated that are not in the new rules,” she added.

Something previously proposed that wasn’t included in the final rule is a provision that would have allowed drivers to pause their 14-hour driving window with one off-duty break of between 30 minutes and three hours. Mullen said the comments had an impact on this and that the sleeper-berth accommodation allows for more flexibility.

“The information and feedback we had was that that was sufficiently flexible for individuals,” Mullen said. “There was obviously some concerns about the three-hour pause, and at this point in time, we felt … we would not proceed forward with the three-hour pause and that the split sleeper berth would provide sufficient flexibility to address the problems.”

Concerns in the comments cited by the agency show that drivers might have been “pressured by carriers, shippers or receivers to use the break to cover detention time, which would not necessarily provide the driver an optimal environment for restorative rest,” according to an email from law firm Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary.

The final rule will go into effect 120 days after being published in the Federal Register, and the firm expected it to be published in the next week or so.

“Given the contentious history of the agency’s hours-of-service rulemaking proceedings, it would not be entirely surprising if this final rule is ultimately challenged in court by any of the various safety advocacy groups that commented on the rule, which could impact the effective date,” the email shows. “Regardless, over the next several days, the firm will be closely examining the 232-page final rule and the impacts that it will have on our clients.”

The rule change is expected to save the U.S. economy and American consumer nearly $274 million annually. The largest impact on the trucking industry with regard to the savings is the shift in the 30-minute rest break requirement, said Larry Minor, associate administrator for policy for the FMCSA. The bulk of the savings comprises the added flexibility of not having to be completely off duty when taking the break.

The first hours of service rules were adopted in 1937. Link here for the final rule.