Transportation dept. relaxes federal rules that control drive time for truckers

Trucker drivers rally in 2018 against a Dept. of Transportation rule requiring electronic log devices to track driver hours
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WASHINGTON (WHSV) — The U.S. Department of Transportation published a final rule on Thursday that relaxes some federal regulations which have forced many drivers to hit the brakes and pull over at inconvenient times, taking mandatory breaks.

The trucking industry has long sought revisions to the "hours of service" rules to provide more flexibility, though highway safety advocates have warned changes could weaken regulations and result in more driver fatigue.

On May 14, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced their final changes to the "Hours of Service" rules for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

“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. 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,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen.

The hours of service rules, first adopted in 1937 and amended multiple times since then, specify the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. Off-duty and on-duty time for most truckers is recorded automatically and precisely by electronic logging devices, or ELDs, since they were mandated in December of 2017.

In 2018, the FMCSA authored an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules so that they could "alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads."

Following the public comment period, in August 2019, the agency published a detailed proposed rule which received an additional 2,800 public comments.

Based on the public comments and input, the final rule on Hours of Service offers four key revisions to the existing rules:

• The Agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
• The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
• The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
• The Agency will change 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.

The FMCSA says their final rule is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. The rule changes do not increase driving time and will still prevent truck drivers from driving more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.

In addition, the new rule will provide an estimated $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers, according to FMCSA data.

With trucking companies employing more than seven million people and moving 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight, the agency says that will be critical.

The new rules will be implemented 120 days after their publication on May 14 in the Federal Register.

You can find the complete final rule here.

COVID-19 response

"Truckers have played a key role in getting America through the COVID-19 public health emergency," the FMCSA said in a statement. "FMCSA has provided regulatory relief to commercial drivers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need. The nation’s truck drivers have been on the front lines of this effort and are vital to America’s supply chain. The latest information, declarations, and resources on FMCSA’s response to the COVID-19 are available at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/COVID-19."

According to the Department of Transportation, they have taken these actions during the COVID-19 pandemic to help truckers delivering needed medical supplies and keeping the food supply chain running:

Provided needed relief to truckers with expiring commercial driver’s licenses and medical examiner certificates
Provided needed regulatory relief to prevent a possible shortage of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers
• Given hours of service regulatory relief to CMV drivers who are transporting emergency relief in response to the public health emergency
• Distributed one million protective masks to America’s truckers
• Encouraged States to keep rest areas open so CMV drivers can eat and rest as they continue to keep store shelves stocked and deliver needed medical supplies to hospitals