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FMCSA releases proposed changes to HOS rules

Five revisions aimed at increasing flexibility for CMV drivers

Posted August 14, 2019

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its much-anticipated proposed changes to the hours-of-service (HOS) rules Wednesday, announcing five revisions for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.

Responding to industry stakeholders’ requests for more flexible HOS conditions, FMCSA in August 2018 started seeking public feedback on portions of the HOS rules and forwarded its proposal to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget in March.

Based on the 5,200 comments received from public feedback in 2018, FMCSA on Wednesday announced five proposed revisions to the existing rules. Read on for a description of the changes.

1. Changes to the 30-minute break rule

Explanation: The proposed rule would increase flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring the break to prevent eight consecutive hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes and allowing the break to be satisfied with on-duty, not driving time.

Implications: Taking a break from several consecutive hours of driving is critical to avoid fatigue, highway hypnosis, and potential health issues, such as deep vein thrombosis. Carriers should already be managing driver fatigue by encouraging breaks from driving above the minimum requirements. Several industry and company-specific exceptions may no longer be needed if the change, as proposed, is in the final rule.

2. Modifying the split sleeper-berth exception

Explanation: Modifying the sleeper-berth exception would allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off-duty into two periods, with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window. The two periods would need to include:

  • One of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth; and
  • Another period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off-duty or in the sleeper berth.

Implications: This change allows drivers to adjust their breaks to offset delays and expected rush-hour traffic due to both off-duty periods pausing the 14-hour clock and extending the window in which up to 11 hours of driving can be completed. Previously, only a minimum eight-hour sleeper-berth period would pause the 14-hour clock.

While the split-sleeper change can allow additional flexibility, drivers and carriers need to be careful if this proposed change becomes final. The frequent use of a split-sleeper exception causes a driver to eventually sleep outside of his or her usual time for sleep. Maintaining a sleep cycle in concert with a driver’s circadian rhythm is essential to driving safety and obtaining restorative rest.

3. Off duty break

Explanation: The rule would 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. For this to work, the driver would have to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.

Implications: This exception extends the 14-hour driving window to up to 17 hours and provides additional flexibility to offset delays. The benefit of the off-duty period may cause drivers to avoid speeding or rushing to get to their next customer or break location. The downside is the driver could be driving in a much longer driving window (up to 17 hours) without restorative rest. Carriers must be cautioned to avoid pressuring or harassing drivers to operate the vehicle when the driver is ill or fatigued. A 17-hour workday is a long day within which to maintain sharp driving skills and attention.

4. Adverse driving conditions exception

Explanation: To modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

Implications: The current addition of two hours of driving in a 14-hour window does not add much flexibility since the driver must complete 13 hours of driving in the 14-hour window. This adjustment would better reflect the impact of adverse condition delays by adding two hours of driving and two hours to the driving window.

5. Short-haul exception

Explanation: To change to the short-haul 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. 

Implications: The proposed modification to the 100 air-mile exception allows drivers of commercial driver’s licensed (CDL) vehicles two additional hours to complete their workday and a much wider area within which to operate. This change would: 
  • Reduce differences between the CDL and non-CDL short-haul exceptions,
  • Reduce the need for several industry and company-specific exceptions, and
  • Decrease the complexity of managing an exception to using electronic logging devices (ELDs).

The so-called 8-in-30 exception allows drivers to log on paper eight days in any 30-day period and still remain exempt from using an ELD. If a current 100 air-mile CDL vehicle exceeds 100 air miles or exceeds a 12-consecutive hour workday, the driver must create a log for the day. If a driver has to log more than eight times in the prior 30 days, the driver must log on an ELD. This proposed change could greatly reduce the logging days in any 30-day period.

Industry stakeholders may comment on the proposed rules for 45 days upon publication in the Federal Register. Comments can be submitted to the federal eRulemaking portal at Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0248.

Following the commentary period, FMCSA will again consider those comments before issuing a final rule. It previously said it hopes to finalize the rule before the December 16, 2019, electronic logging device (ELD) deadline, but the process is likely to take much longer.

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