KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The long-awaited, hoped for revision to the Hours of Service rule took a giant step toward reality when acting Administrator Jim Mullen announced the rule had been sent to the White House for approval.
“After carefully reviewing these comments, I am pleased to announce today that Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward with a final rule on Hours of Service and that the agency has sent a final rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for review,” Mullen said during a general session Tuesday morning at the 82nd Annual Truckload Carriers Association convention under way here. “While I can’t go into the specifics of this final rule, please know that the goal of this process from the beginning has been to improve safety for all motorists and to increase flexibility for commercial drivers.”
The OMB is part of the executive branch of the federal government.
The OMB has the option of approving the rule or sending it back to FMCSA for changes.
There is typically a 60-90 lapse between the time a rule is submitted to OMB and the time it is released as a final rule, barring, of course, any changes that might have to be made.
The comments to which Mullen referred were submitted by trucking industry stakeholders after the agency issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) for HOS in 2018 followed by a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) in August 2019.
The ANPRM asked for comments on four areas of possible changes and the NPRM outlined five proposed changes based on the comments to the ANPRM.
The agency’s action on HOS beginning in 2018 was the result of pleas from drivers and motor carrier executives to allow more flexibility in the rule, specifically in two areas — extending the 14-hour clock in certain circumstance and doing away with the requirement implemented in 2005 that requires eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.
Prior to 2005, the rule called for two periods totaling 10 or more hours in the berth, each with a minimum of two hours.
In the NPRM the agency proposed to:
- Increase safety and 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.
- Modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
- 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, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
- Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
- 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.
The agency said in the NPRM that its proposal had been crafted to improve safety on the nation’s highways, noting 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.
The agency’s efforts to change HOS drew praise from trucking industry leaders when the NPRM was published.
“We applaud the agency’s efforts to create safety-first, data-driven regulations,” said Truckload Carriers Association President John Lyboldt. “The initiative to reduce roadway fatalities represents an industry lift for which TCA is committed to uniting with our federal agency partners.”
TCA Chairman Josh Kaburick said that with the publication of the NPRM the FMCSA is taking a much-needed step forward to establish added flexibility for drivers.
“We as an industry applaud the FMCSA for these efforts,” Kaburick said. “Now is the time for the industry to actively comment and provide data to justify full sleeper berth flexibility. Only through full flexibility will our drivers truly be in control of their day and provided the opportunity to sleep when needed or take a break to avoid excessive traffic congestion.”
“Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and (then) FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez are to be commended for their commitment to an open and data-driven process to update the Hours of Service rules,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “We look forward to studying and understanding how these proposed changes will impact our industry so we can provide relevant data and information to strengthen and support a good final rule that bolsters safety and provides drivers needed flexibility. ATA intends to fully review these proposed changes so we can shape a strong rule for our drivers, our industry and the motoring public.”
“In the 15 years since the last major revisions to the hours-of-service, we as an industry have learned a great deal about how these rules impact our drivers,” said past ATA Chairman Barry Pottle, president of Pottle’s Transportation. “The valuable experience and data we’ve gained over that time will make it easier to provide flexibility for drivers to get additional rest and find parking while keeping our highways safe.”
Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association President Todd Spencer called the proposal a commonsense approach.
“Truckers have families and want to get home safely just like everyone else,” Spencer said. “They are the most knowledgeable, highway safety advocates and the agency’s proposal, overall, recognizes that fact.
“Over the past decade, truck drivers have been more regulated than ever, and more compliant than ever, and yet crashes are going up,” Spencer said. “We have pushed for flexibility in hours of service regulations for years, long before the current administration.