Finally, flexibility

We have hours-of-service reform. Here’s what the changes mean for drivers.

November 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Using the approach that allowing drivers more flexibility within the hours-of-service regulations will enhance safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put four major changes into effect on Sept. 29.

The new hours-of-service rules expanded short-haul limits, updated the adverse driving condition provision, added a split-sleeper option, and modified the 30-minute break requirement.

“The main part of this rule is to provide flexibility to drivers in how they schedule their days to be most efficient, safe and productive in their activity each day,” Joe DeLorenzo, FMCSA’s acting associate administrator of enforcement, said in a video released by the agency.

Overview of the HOS rule

After the electronic logging device mandate went into effect in December 2017, many truckers told the agency that the rigidity of the regulations was exposed.

In February 2018, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association petitioned FMCSA, asking the agency to make changes that would increase drivers’ flexibility. FMCSA responded in August 2018 by issuing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking looking at possible hours-of-service reform.

More than two years later and after receiving more than 8,000 comments from the public, truckers have a modified hours of service.

Many truckers say the rule changes didn’t go far enough. Several safety groups say the rules went too far. Meanwhile, FMCSA has maintained that the rule changes will provide drivers more control over their day without extending the amount of driving time.

OOIDA has been supportive of the changes while remaining hopeful that more flexibility could be on its way through future rulemakings.

The OOIDA Foundation and the FMCSA both published information to help drivers navigate the rule changes.

Short-haul exception

The new rules expand the short-haul exception to 150 air miles and allows a 14-hour work shift to take place as part of the exception.

“Under the previous rule, drivers using the short-haul exception could not be on-duty for more than 12 hours or drive beyond a 100 air-mile radius, which equates to 115 miles,” the OOIDA Foundation said in a video. “If a driver did exceed those limits, the exception would no longer apply, and they would be required to fill out a record of duty status, or RODS, as well as take a 30-minute break.”

Under the old rule, a driver would be required to install an ELD if he or she exceeded the limits more than eight days in a consecutive 30-day period.

The added flexibility under the new rule will allow more drivers to fall under the short-haul exception.

FMCSA provided the example that a driver in Peoria, Ill., used to not be able to service Chicago and St. Louis, while the new rule allows the driver to go to those two cities with two more hours to do so.

To use the short-haul exception, a driver must start and end the shift in the same location.

Adverse driving conditions

The provision expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by as much as two hours.

Under the previous rule, a driver could use the adverse driving conditions provision to extend their drive time for up to two hours, but they couldn’t extend their on-duty time. Consequently, the provision was seldom used.

The new rule also expands the driving window and updates the definition of adverse driving conditions to snow, ice, sleet, fog or other adverse weather conditions or unusual road or traffic conditions that couldn’t be reasonably known to a driver before the start of the on-duty period or immediately after a rest period, and to a motor carrier before dispatching the driver.

The key to the provision is “unforeseen,” the OOIDA Foundation said.

Rush-hour traffic in Atlanta or a snow storm that had been forecast for two days probably wouldn’t qualify. However, the provision could be used in an unexpected crash that stops traffic or for an unexpected fire or hailstorm.

FMCSA provided an example of a driver who is 15 miles from his destination when there is a gravel spill on the bridge ahead and the bridge is the only access to the destination. In the example, the driver has one hour left of driving time and one hour left in the driving day. Under the new provision, the driver can stop at the next exit (for up to two hours) until the road is clear and still have time to get to the destination without violating hours-of-service rules.

The agency advises drivers to make an annotation in their electronic logging device when using the provision and to include details about the adverse driving condition.

The OOIDA Foundation said it is critical to remember that the 60 hours in seven days and the 70 hours in eight days rules still apply.

30-minute rest break

The new rules don’t eliminate the 30-minute break mandate altogether, but they do allow the break to be fulfilled through 30 minutes of on-duty, non-driving time. The change means that instead of taking the break off duty, the trucker can now take the break while completing such tasks as getting fuel or checking to make sure the load is secure.

“Considering that drivers will already need to stop for those tasks or to get a quick drink and stretch their legs, the change should add flexibility,” the OOIDA Foundation said.

FMCSA emphasizes that under the change, drivers can either satisfy the break off-duty, in the sleeper berth, or on-duty while not driving. The 30-minute break can’t be broken down into increments.

Sleeper berth provision

The previous rules allowed an 8/2 split, but the two hours still counted against a driver’s 14-hour limit.

The new rules modify the sleeper berth exception to allow drivers to take their 10 hours off-duty in two periods, provided one off-duty period (whether in or out of the sleeper berth) is at least two hours long and the other involves at least seven consecutive hours spent in the sleeper. Neither period counts against the maximum 14-hour driving window.

The split could be 8/2, 7/3, or even 7.5/2.5.

FMCSA provided an example with a driver starting day one having just completed 10 consecutive hours off duty. In the example, the driver is on-duty from midnight until 1 a.m. and then drives until 7 a.m. The driver then takes a three-hour break until 10 a.m. and goes back on duty until noon before resuming his drive until 5 p.m. Then the driver goes into the sleeper berth from 5 p.m. until midnight. In this example, the trucker had 11 hours of driving time and the break periods did not count against the driver’s 14-hour window.

More explanation

For truck drivers still trying to get a handle on the new hours-of-service regulations, the FMCSA has released an online tool to help drivers better understand the rules.

According to FMCSA, its Educational Tool for Hours of Service (ETHOS) helps motor carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers achieve a better understanding of the new hours-of-service regulations.

ETHOS provides drivers the opportunity to enter their duty statuses so that it can identify where potential violations may have occurred regarding the 11-hour driving limit, the 14-hour driving window, the 30-minute break, or the sleeper berth provision.

FMCSA said the tool “is for educational purposes only” and is designed to assist motor carriers and drivers in understanding the hours of service.

“The ETHOS identifies only potential violations and should not be relied on by motor carriers to monitor or evaluate hours-of-service compliance,” FMCSA wrote.

The agency also provides an overview of the four main rule changes and a fact sheet.

In addition to FMCSA’s resources, truckers also can also learn about the rule changes by watching five brief videos released by the OOIDA Foundation.

The research arm of OOIDA provides information about the overall rule as well as specifics about each of the changes.

ELD updates

Soon after the rule changes went into effect on Sept. 29, OOIDA received reports from drivers that some ELD providers had not updated their devices to reflect the rule changes.

According to FMCSA, ELDs are not required to show violations. Instead, the devices are required only to record the actual time and events.

FMCSA’s Larry Minor discussed this issue at an August 2019 listening session in Dallas.

“That’s one of the things that we’re continuing to work with the ELD vendors on,” Minor said. “That is that we don’t require the ELDs to designate whether something is or is not a violation, rather than just capturing what actually happened.”

For truckers with ELDs that designated violations before the hours-of-service rule changes, it is important to note that may no longer be the case. LL

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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.