FMCSA announces final hours-of-service rule changes

By: Tom Bray

Publication: Transportation Safety Management Today

Date Posted: 05/15/2020

HOS Rule Changes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced four significant changes to the hours-of-service rules for interstate truck and bus drivers in an on-the-record conference call on May 14, 2020. The changes include:

  • Revisions to the 30-minute break rule for truck drivers, to require drivers to stop driving once they have accumulated eight hours of driving without a break in driving of at least 30 minutes (the break can be off-duty or on-duty time).
  • Revisions to the sleeper-berth exception to allow truck drivers to split their required 10 hours off into two periods, one being at least seven hours in a sleeper berth and the other being at least two hours off. In addition, neither rest period will count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • Changes to the “adverse driving conditions” exception to allow drivers to extend the maximum duty window (not just the driving limit) by two hours when a driver encounters unexpected weather or traffic conditions.
  • Revisions to the 100-air-mile short-haul exception to:
    • Lengthen the maximum on-duty period to qualify for the exemption from 12 to 14 hours, and
    • Extend the distance limit within which the driver must operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Not included in the changes was a proposal to allow truck drivers to extend their 14-hour driving window by up to three hours using a rest break. Such a change was not justified by current studies and data or supported by comments, said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen during the conference call.

The changes will likely go into effect in late September, 120 days (roughly four months) after they get published in the Federal Register in coming days.

The details and the impacts on HOS Rule Change

These changes will result in additional flexibility for drivers and carriers, which, in turn, will lead to increased productivity. Here are the details and major impacts that can be expected.

30-minute break rule

The change to this rule will allow drivers to take fewer 30-minute breaks as the break will be required when the driver has accumulated eight hours of driving time (rather than consecutive time) without a break of 30 minutes or more.

One common source of confusion among drivers is not understanding the nature of how on-duty time affects the current limit. As such, in addition to increasing driver productivity, this change to the 30-minute break will mean significantly fewer violations for operating beyond the eight-hour limit.

The change will also make several special exemptions related to using on-duty attendance or waiting time to satisfy the requirement moot.

Split sleeper changes

Currently, drivers (and some carrier personnel) become confused about how the 14-hour limit is split when a driver uses the split-sleeper provision. This is due to the smaller of the breaks counting toward the 14-hour limit and the eight-hour sleeper break not counting toward the limit. However, the new rule states that neither of the breaks count toward the 14-hour limit.

By allowing both breaks to stop the 14-hour clock and therefore simplifying the use of the exception, more carriers will allow their drivers to use it. This will allow more flexibility in dealing with delays at shippers and receivers and will provide drivers with more latitude when attempting to work their schedules around times of heavy traffic.

Adverse conditions

Due to drivers being able to extend their duty limit (the 14-conseuctive-hour limit for property-carrying drivers and the 15-hour on-duty limit for passenger-carrying drivers), as well as their driving limit, more drivers will be able to use the adverse conditions exception. However, a key point to remember is that the definition of an adverse driving condition did not change, so drivers are still relatively limited as to when this exception actually applies.

Short-haul drivers

The changes to this exception (increasing 100 air miles to 150 and 12 hours to 14) mean that fewer short-haul drivers will need to use logs and/or ELDs. This will also make moot a lot of the special exceptions allowing short-haul drivers to operate to the 14th hour and still use the exception, since everyone will be able to do that.

This change also changes the 30-minute break requirements for some drivers. If the driver meets the terms of the new short-haul exception (stays within 150 air miles and returns within 14 hours), the driver will qualify as a short-haul driver. This means the driver will not have to take 30-minute breaks. The end result is that fewer drivers will have to stop and take a 30-minute break, improving efficiency.

Training will be key

If you are going to use these changes, it is important you train your drivers on them before the changes become final. You want to make sure your drivers are implementing these changes correctly and according to your instruction, rather than how they heard they should implement them from someone on the road.

Key to remember: These changes may sound minor, but they can have a significant impact on carriers who understand them and implement them appropriately.

About the author
Tom Bray - Transportation Editor

Tom has been with J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc. since 2005. He brought with him an extensive background that includes years of experience in DOT compliance, policy development, driver human resources, driver training, training program development, CDL testing, claims management, and accident and injury prevention.

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