FMCSA’s pilot program open to public comment until Nov. 2

September 3, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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The public has until Nov. 2 to comment on a proposed pilot program that would look at providing drivers the ability to pause their 14-hour clock anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours.

FMCSA’s notice of the pilot program, which was announced last week, officially published in the Federal Register on Wednesday, Sept. 3. Comments about the program can be made here, or by going to the Regulations.gov website and entering Docket No. FMCSA-2020-0098-0001.

“This pilot program seeks to gather statistically reliable evidence whether decisions concerning the timing of such flexibility can be aligned with employers’, shippers’, and receivers’ scheduling preferences to optimize productivity while ensuring safety performance at a level equivalent to or greater than what would be achieved absent the regulatory relief,” the FMCSA notice stated.

The provision is reminiscent of a request OOIDA made in its 2018 petition to the agency. 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.

More flexibility

FMCSA’s hours-of-service final rule, which is set to go into effect on Sept. 29, already takes steps toward giving drivers more flexibility within the rules. The provision being looked at in the pilot program, however, would add to that flexibility.

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.

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.

Coercion concerns

An 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.

FMCSA’s proposed pilot program

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.

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

  • Proper operating authority and registration.
  • Minimum levels of financial responsibility, if applicable.
  • Not be a high or moderate risk motor carrier as defined in the agency’s notice.
  • Not have a conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating.
  • Not have any enforcement actions within the past 3 years.
  • Not have a crash rate above the national average.
  • Not have a driver out-of-service rate above the national average.
  • 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.

 

 

Lucas Oil
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.