OOIDA calls HOS plan ‘a big step in the right direction’

August 14, 2019

Mark Schremmer

|

Initially prompted by a petition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, FMCSA has announced a notice of proposed rulemaking on hours-of-service reform that promises to give truck drivers more flexibility.

“The need for changes to the hours-of-service regulations has fallen on deaf ears in Washington, D.C., for too long,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer said. “Anyone who truly understands trucking realizes the existing regulations simply don’t work. With the announcement of the proposed changes under Administrator (Ray) Martinez’s leadership, we’re hopefully going to take a big step in the right direction and give drivers more flexibility and, ultimately, improve highway safety.”

FMCSA revealed the highly anticipated proposal on Wednesday, Aug. 14. Based off OOIDA’s petition and thousands of comments from truck drivers, the proposed reform aims to provide truckers the flexibility within the hours-of-service regulations in order to make the highways safer. Basically, the goal is to give truckers more freedom to stop when they are tired and to avoid driving in adverse weather conditions or heavy traffic.

Some of the plan’s highlights include:

  • An adverse driving provision that extends the clock by two hours but doesn’t touch weekly limits.
  • Tying the 30-minute rest break requirement to eight hours of driving time and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty not driving status.
  • Changing short-haul limits from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air miles to 150.
  • In addition to splits of 10/0 and 8/2, FMCSA proposes to provide split sleeper options of 7/3, while requesting data on 6/4.
  • Allowing drivers the option of taking a three-consecutive-hour break once per duty period.

“We hope this lives up to the request for more flexibility that we heard in the 5,200 comments we received,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said in an interview with Dave Nemo on Wednesday, Aug. 14. “We think this is a commonsense approach … I think getting the flexibility back in the hands of drivers will enhance safety.”

He went on to encourage the continued engagement of the trucking community through the regulatory process.

“If you like all of it, comment. If you like parts of it, comment,” he said.

The notice will publish to the Federal Register in the near future. At that point, the agency will begin accepting comments for 45 days.

“I spent nearly 25 years driving truck, so I’m qualified to say that the existing hours-of-service regulations are ‘misguided’ to put it politely,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said. “Administrator Martinez committed to working with OOIDA to address this issue, and he’s following through on it. Not only do we want to express our sincere thanks to him and his team, but we also want to thank our members for everything they’ve done to get us to this point. In this case, persistence has paid off, and we’re going to do everything we can to get these changes across the finish line.”

Truckers have complained about the inflexibility of FMCSA’s hours-of-service regulations for years, but the spotlight shined bright on the issue after the electronic logging mandate went into effect in December 2017. Many truck drivers said the current regulations are too rigid, oftentimes forcing them to drive in unsafe conditions and stop when they are wide awake and the highway conditions are optimal.

OOIDA gets the ball rolling on hours of service reform

In February 2018, OOIDA submitted a petition regarding hours-of-service-reform to FMCSA. The petition asked for regulations to allow drivers to take a rest break once per 14-hour duty period for three consecutive hours if the driver is off-duty. OOIDA also asked the agency to eliminate the 30-minute rest break requirement.

A few months later, FMCSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking about hours of service. The agency hosted five public listening sessions on the topic and received more than 5,200 comments. Truckers echoed OOIDA’s sentiment from the petition, saying the current regulations lack the flexibility drivers need to maintain safety.

FMCSA, which released many of those comments on Wednesday, said the feedback from the public led to the proposed changes.

“We need more flexibility in (our) day,” a truck driver from Quincy, Fla., wrote. “Putting everybody in a box does not work … I feel rushed and have caught myself doing unsafe things because I am watching the clock more to try to get done.”

This past March, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told a room full of truck drivers at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., that the agency had listened and change was coming. The notice of proposed rulemaking was sent on March 28 to the Office of Management and Budget for Review.

“You wanted flexibility. We listened,” Chao said.

Since the announcement, truck drivers waited for the plan to be revealed, hoping that the new rules would allow a schedule that aligns with the realities of being a trucker.

However, the rulemaking sat at OMB for months. It had been projected to publish in the Federal Register on June 7, and then the 90-day mark was reached on June 26. On July 31, another projected date arrived and then passed.

Now that the day has arrived, OOIDA is encouraging truck drivers to support the move toward more flexibility.

“We realize some drivers will be critical of the proposed changes for various reasons, perhaps because they feel they don’t go far enough,” Pugh said. “The reality is that there will never be a perfect option, so we need to move toward a solution that benefits as many drivers as possible and this is a big step in the right direction. I think it would be a big mistake for any driver to oppose what’s on the table right now.”

Mark Schremmer

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

PrePass ELD