Additional flexibility?

FMCSA seeks comments on pilot program for HOS provision.

October 2020

Mark Schremmer

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When OOIDA petitioned FMCSA for hours-of-service reform in February 2018, the Association requested a provision that would allow drivers to pause the 14-hour clock for up to three hours as long as the driver is off duty.

The provision did not make it into FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service, which as of press time was set to take effect on Sept. 29. However, the new rules involving the split-sleeper provide similar benefits. The split-sleeper provision provides a pause option with a minimum of two hours and up to three hours. Drivers don’t necessarily have to take eight or seven hours in the sleeper later, because they could always take a 10-hour off-duty period and reset the on-duty clock for the next day.

While the provision offers some of the benefits OOIDA requested in its 2018 petition, FMCSA announced that it is planning a pilot program to look at possibly providing truckers an option more resembling OOIDA’s original concept.

Proposed pilot program

The pilot program would allow drivers the ability to pause the clock for at least 30 minutes and up to three hours. The driver would be required to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the shift.

FMCSA’s notice of the program officially published in the Federal Register on Sept. 3. Comment about the program by going to the Regulations.gov website and entering Docket No. FMCSA-2020-0098-0001. The comment period lasts until Nov. 2.

Participation in this pilot program would be limited to a certain number of commercial driver’s license holders who meet the criteria specified for participating.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s manager of government affairs, told Land Line Now that the provision in the pilot program would provide truckers even more flexibility than what is offered in the upcoming split-sleeper rule.

“Say that a driver wants to stop for an hour for whatever reason,” Matousek said. “(Under the upcoming rules,) instead of stopping for an hour, you’d have to stop for two if you wanted to pause your clock and use the split.”

The provision in the pilot program would allow the driver to rest for one hour while pausing the clock and then get back on the road.

“There’s not a huge difference in the way it might look on paper, but it would provide quite a bit of flexibility to drivers,” Matousek said.

The pilot program – scheduled to operate for up to three years – would gather evidence to analyze the safety and feasibility of such a modification to the hours-of-service rules. FMCSA said the desired sample size is between 200 and 400 drivers.

Coercion concerns

The option to pause the clock for up to three hours made it into FMCSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking but failed to reach the final rule.

“FMCSA continues to believe that an opportunity for a single off-duty pause in the 14-hour driving window could provide flexibility for drivers without compromising safety, as explained in the notice of proposed rulemaking,” the agency wrote. “However, many commenters to the (notice) believed that drivers would be pressured by carriers, shippers or receivers to use the break to cover detention time, which would not necessarily provide the driver an optimal environment for restorative rest. This suggests that the pause could have unintended consequences that were not adequately evaluated.”

The agency said it hopes the pilot program will provide the appropriate data to find out if the pause can be used effectively to benefit the driver by providing additional rest or avoiding traffic congestion.

“Through the pilot program, the agency could gather data and information concerning real-world actions and decisions among drivers, employers, shippers and receivers to reach a common understanding of how to give drivers more opportunities for rest and increased efficiency,” FMCSA wrote.

Program qualifications

To qualify for participation in the pilot program, motor carriers must meet the following eligibility criteria:

  • Must have proper operating authority and registration.
  • Must have the minimum levels of financial responsibility, if applicable.
  • Must not be a high or moderate risk motor carrier as defined in the agency’s notice.
  • Must not have a conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating.
  • Must not have any enforcement actions within the past three years.
  • Must not have a crash rate above the national average.
  • Must not have a driver out-of-service rate above the national average.
  • Must not have a vehicle out-of-service rate above the national average.

In addition, motor carriers participating in the pilot program would be required to meet the following requirements:

  • Grant permission for drivers to participate in the split duty period pilot program.
  • Agree to comply with all pilot program procedures.
  • Grant permission for researchers to install a video-based onboard monitoring system and gather records of duty status information for each participating driver throughout the study duration.
  • Grant permission for drivers participating in the study to operate under the 14-hour on-duty window exemption. LL

Land Line’s Greg Grisolano contributed to this report.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.