HOS conversation shifts
For the first time in recent history, truckers – not so-called safety groups and litigation – are driving changes to hours of service.
For the first time in recent history, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is considering changes to the hours-of-service regulations without a lawsuit in play.
The agency opened a rulemaking to consider changes to the hours-of-service regulations on Aug. 23. The strong backlash the agency received after the electronic logging mandate went into effect is the genesis for the consideration of change. The rigidness of the current regulations paired with down-to-the-minute monitoring of compliance, rather than the 15-minute increments allowed on paper logs, has truckers screaming, “enough.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association saw the toll of the situation before it really ever even started and was prepared to push the agency toward reform. On Feb. 13, the association filed a petition requesting the agency initiate the rulemaking.
That petition, along with pressure from drivers and other groups, did the trick.
“So I’ve got to tell you we wouldn’t even be here having this conversation were it not for the petitions that were received, especially from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez told Land Line Now after the proposal was announced.
“As you know we’ve been on an aggressive listening tour over the last four months trying to get feedback that we could put on paper for an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, and that’s what led us to where we are today.”
What’s being considered?
The agency is considering a variety of options, some of which were proposed by OOIDA. The Association pressed the agency to consider giving truckers the ability to stop the 14-hour on-duty clock up to three hours if they so choose. Also, the Association called for the elimination of the mandatory 30-minute rest breaks.
Another proposal being considered allows drivers to split up the 10-hour off-duty period in as many increments as they choose, so long as none is shorter than three hours. That proposal also asks the agency to nix the 30-minute rest break.
In addition to taking comments on the two petitions, the agency floated some more possible changes.
- Expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on duty to 14 hours on duty, in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;
- Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions;
- Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving; and
- Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
The short answer: lawsuits.
The hours-of-service regulations have been revised and tweaked four times since 2002. Each time has been in response to litigation. Saying that the agency has struggled to make everyone happy is another way to look at it.
So-called safety advocates want less driving time, more off-duty time and an unforgiving, rigid rule. Truckers want more flexibility to navigate the ever-changing situations they face every day on the road with congestion and with delays at shippers and receivers.
The latest revision of the regulations back in 2013 were spurred by a lawsuit filed by International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and the Truck Safety Coalition.
As the agency is doing with the current proposal, listening sessions were conducted. Trucker after trucker stood at the microphones and pleaded for that flexibility. A common statement was, “I just want to be able to take a break.”
Missing the actual point drivers were trying to make, the agency handed down the 30-minute rest break in the 2013 rule along with pulling back flexibility that the 34-hour restart provides drivers.
Function creep of flexibility
The restrictions to the voluntary 34-hour restart were stripped by congressional action led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, in 2014. Drivers once again can take the 34-hour restart whenever they want with no requirements on how many overnight hours are included.
That little bit of flexibility was a relief, but it wasn’t enough. Group after group began going to FMCSA and pleading their case to be exempt.
As of December 2017, FMCSA has granted petitions for exemption from the 30-minute rest break and the 14-hour on-duty clock to 14 groups and organizations. Ranging from livestock and bee haulers to concrete mixing operations, each organization pleaded its case to increase flexibility in the HOS regulations because of the commodity hauled. Once receiving the exemptions, not one group has been unable to renew them.
That move toward flexibility, along with the utter outrage that commenced following the implementation of the electronic logging mandate and a new administrator bent on listening to drivers, has set the stage for the first driver-driven reform to the hours of service.
In an effort to move expeditiously in the reform effort, the agency set a 30-day comment period, scheduled to end Sept. 24. However, that has been met with requests to extend that deadline by 30 and 60 days by various groups. As of press time, the agency had not acted on those requests.
Regardless of the length of the comment period, at the close of the comment period the agency will consider all the relevant input, be it in the form of formal comments or listening session discussions. If the agency decides a change is not only needed, but supported by research, the next step would be a proposed rulemaking with the specific changes the agency is considering. LL