FMCSA Readies Advanced Rulemaking to Ease Hours of Service Rules

August 17, 2018 by Alan Adler, @AlanAdler

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing changes to the hours of service restrictions on truckers to revamp what counts toward the 11-hour daily limit that truckers can spend behind the wheel.

In an interview with Trucks.com, FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said he has heard many complaints from trucking associations about the hours of service regulation that took effect in 2013.

The hours of service rule is meant to reduce driver fatigue that could lead to crashes. It limits driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours.

The FMCSA is expected to publish proposals to make it easier to comply with the hours of service rule. The federal Office of Management and Budget received the proposals earlier this week. But the White House must approve them before rulemaking can occur.

If drivers can avoid counting the time they wait for a load or sitting in traffic, they could move more cargo within the 11-hour shift. That would help address a booming economy and a shortage of drivers. Trucks carry about 71 percent of the nation’s freight.

“Are there inefficiencies being created with the existing hours of service framework? That’s the question I’ve been asking since the day I got here,” Martinez told Trucks.com. “I believe over the last few months, I’ve gotten some very good, constructive suggestions. I don’t know if they are the answers. It’s what warrants consideration.”

Martinez declined to reveal specifics included in an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking expected to be announced next Tuesday.

One area likely to be addressed is the split-sleeper berth, in which a driver can use the sleeper berth of a big rig to get the equivalent of at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before starting the clock on another driving shift. Eliminating a mandatory 30-minute rest break after eight hours of driving, and consideration of congested driving and adverse weather conditions also are expected to addressed.

“FMCSA has recently received petitions conveying widespread concerns on hours-of-service regulations and requesting rulemaking,” the agency said in a statement, adding that it is committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure hours-of-service rules provide safety for all roadway travelers and avoids imposing inflexible regulatory restrictions on industry.

“(Martinez) is asking the industry ‘Tell us what the problems are from a real point of view,’” Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations, told Trucks.com. “That is a significant step forward. We welcome that as an industry because there are problems out there and the regulations do not reflect reality.”

Spear said truckers taking the required 30-minute rest break are parking along on- and off-ramps and shoulders in Atlantic seaboard states.

“That’s a safety issue,” he said. “We’re bottlenecking everything because of all the regulations. Something’s got to give.”

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said his association is eager to see how its petition for hours of service changes is reflected in rulemaking.

“The hours-of-service regulations for commercial truck drivers need to be updated to match the realities of freight movement and to truly improve highway safety,” he said. “The trucking industry is in a situation where we have never had more regulations and greater enforcement and compliance.”

The FMCSA in July denied an exemption request from OIADA for a five-year delay in implementing Electronic Logging Devices, or ELDs, for its 161,000 small business trucking professionals and independent drivers. Electronic logging replaced paper logs that depended on drivers accurately keeping track of hours driven.

ELDs will remain an issue for drivers and compliance inspectors for some time, Martinez said.

“I’m hoping that challenges to ELDs are done in the legal sense,” he said. “The temperature has certainly gone down.  I don’t want it to sound like we’re putting ELDs behind us now because we are in this transitional period. The only way these issues get wrestled to the ground is buy staying on top of it.”

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