Change to adverse driving provision would extend trucker’s driving window

August 19, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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The current hours-of-service regulations already have an “adverse driving” provision. However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it is seldom used. As part of the agency’s proposal for hours-of-service reform, FMCSA is pitching some changes to the provision in order to make it more feasible for drivers to use.

FMCSA’s proposed change to the adverse driving provision is one of five listed in the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking.

The five proposed changes are aimed at providing truck drivers with more flexibility within the hours-of-service regulations.

  • The limits for short-haul operations would increase from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air miles to 150.
  • The adverse driving provision would allow a driver up to a 16-hour window within which to complete up to 13 hours of driving if the driver encounters adverse conditions.
  • The 30-minute break requirement would be modified, prohibiting driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least one 30-minute change in duty status. This would allow 30 minutes of on-duty, not driving time, off-duty time, or sleeper-berth time to qualify as a break.
  • In addition to splits of 10/0 and 8/2, drivers would be allowed a split-sleeper option of 7/3.
  • Drivers would have the option of stopping the clock a minimum of 30 minutes and up to three hours consecutively once per duty period.

The plan was announced Aug. 14, and the notice of proposed rulemaking is expected to publish in the Federal Register this week. As of Aug. 19, the notice hadn’t reached the Federal Register for public inspection. Once it publishes, a 45-day comment period will start. Comments may be submitted to the Regulations.gov website by using docket number FMCSA-2018-0248.

Under current regulations, truck drivers can be allowed two additional hours of driving time for “adverse conditions,” which is defined as “snow, sleet, fog, other adverse weather conditions, a highway covered with snow or ice, or unusual road and traffic conditions, none of which were apparent on the basis of information known to the person dispatching the run at the time it was begun.”

Although the current rule allows truckers to increase their driving time from 11 to 13 hours, it does not provide a corresponding extension of the 14-hour driving window. During the advance notice of proposed rulemaking on hours of service, FMCSA said many drivers commented that they have never used the adverse driving conditions exception.

FMCSA’s proposed change to the adverse driving provision would allow a trucker up to a 16-hour window within which to complete 13 hours of driving.

“While the agency is not aware of any research that is specific to the impact of adverse conditions on crash risk, the flexibility provided in the proposal would give drivers greater latitude to respond to adverse driving conditions by removing the existing penalty that ‘shortens’ the driver’s duty day if he or she responds cautiously to an adverse condition in a manner that takes up more duty time,” FMCSA wrote in its proposed rulemaking.

“FMCSA expects the proposed increase to duty time during adverse driving conditions to incentivize drivers facing these conditions to either travel at a reduced speed due to road conditions, which is likely to minimize the risk of crashes, or to suspend commercial motor vehicle operations in order to wait for the adverse conditions to abate.”

The agency also emphasizes that the change would not increase the amount of driving time that is already allowed under the provision. FMCSA said it doesn’t expect the change to lead to an increase in vehicle miles traveled. Rather, it would just change the time in which those miles are driven.

“This provision is intended to allow (truckers) to drive (their) anticipated trip within one shift when adverse weather would decrease your vehicle miles traveled efficiency, or make road travel unsafe for a period of up to two hours,” the notice stated.

“It is not intended to allow for additional trips or increased freight movement.”

Increasing the hours-of-service window during adverse conditions is not uncommon in other segments of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Federal Aviation Administration allows a two-hour flight duty period extension for unforeseen operational conditions, and the Federal Railroad Administration allows a four-hour duty period extension for emergencies or work related to emergencies.

FMCSA seeks feedback on the proposal and would like drivers to answer the following questions about the adverse driving provision when they submit their comments.

  • Will this change cause drivers to travel further in adverse conditions?
  • Will this change drivers’ behavior when encountering adverse conditions? How so?
  • Understanding that adverse conditions cannot be predicted, will drivers utilize this provision more often after this change?

In addition, the agency requests public comment about potential modifications to the definition of “adverse driving conditions.” FMCSA said many of the comments it received in the advance notice of proposed rulemaking suggested that the current definition is “confusing.”

“Specifically, the agency requests input on the suggestion that knowledge of the existence of adverse conditions should rest with the driver rather than the dispatcher,” the notice stated. “Alternatively, should the requirement for lack of advance knowledge at the time of dispatch be eliminated? Should the current definition of ‘adverse driving conditions’ be modified to address other circumstances?”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it supports the goal of putting more control in the hands of truck drivers, and it encourages truckers to submit their comments regarding the definition of “adverse driving conditions.”

“The current adverse driving exception is only taken by a few, not by nearly as many drivers that face adverse driving,” OOIDA President Todd Spencer said. “This is simply because the agency hasn’t done a very good job of defining adverse driving. They want your feedback on that. It isn’t just weather. It can also be traffic. It can be crashes. It can be any of the things that you guys run into on a regular basis that actually shuts roads down. That should be considered adverse driving as well, and the agency needs to hear that.”

Editor’s note: In the coming days, Land Line will take a look at each of the changes in FMCSA’s notice of proposed rulemaking on hours of service. Last week, Land Line wrote about the proposed changes for short haul operations.

More on FMCSA’s proposed changes to hours-of-service regulations:
FMCSA encourages feedback on hours-of-service plan
OOIDA calls HOS plan ‘a big step in the right direction

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, 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 nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.