Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Publishes Hours of Service Proposal to Improve Safety and Increase Flexibility for Commercial Drivers

FMCSA Unveils Proposed Changes to Hours-of-Service Rules

On Aug. 14, 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published its much-anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on changes to hours of service (HOS) rules. In the NPRM, the FMCSA revealed five HOS revisions that, if implemented, could affect commercial motor vehicle drivers and their employers.

The FMSCA claims that this proposal is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways while providing commercial drivers more flexibility. The proposed rule would not increase driving time and would continue to prevent CMV operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute change in duty status.

Proposed Changes to the 30-minute Break Rule
Under the FMCSA’s proposed rule, there would be increased flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status rather than off-duty status.
The FMCSA predicts that this proposal would have no adverse effect on drivers because drivers would still be constrained by the 11-hour driving limit and would continue to receive on-duty/non-driving breaks from driving tasks.

The Sleeper-berth Exception
The proposed rules would also modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods:

⦁ 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.

This change could lead to increased use of sleeper berths because drivers using a berth would have two additional hours to complete 11 hours of driving by virtue of excluding the shorter rest period from the calculation of the 14-hour driving window.

Off-duty Breaks
The change 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 apply, the driver would have to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.

The FMCSA stated that drivers could use this time to:
⦁ Rest without penalty of losing time in their driving window;
⦁ Avoid traffic by waiting in a parking lot and increasing their vehicle miles traveled efficiency; or
⦁ Mitigate the effect on the 14-hour rule of long detention times by allowing driving later in the work shift.

One potential downside is that drivers could be driving in a longer driving window without restorative rest.

Adverse Driving Conditions Exception
The FMCSA is also proposing modifications to the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

Under the current rules, a driver may drive a commercial vehicle for no more than two additional hours beyond the maximum time allowed. However, this does not extend the maximum “driving windows.” This proposed change would potentially better reflect the impact of adverse-condition delays on drivers by adding two hours of driving and two hours to the driving window.

Short-haul Exception

The proposal also includes a change to the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum onduty 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. This proposal could increase the number of drivers able to take advantage of the short-haul exception.

Next Steps

Industry stakeholders may comment on the proposed rules for 45 days. The Federal Register Notice, including how to submit comments, is available here. Following the comment period, the FMCSA will again consider those comments before issuing a final rule.

Remember, for the time being, these are proposed rules that are not yet in place. For more information, review the FMCSA’s press release on the proposal here.