New hours of service go into effect

September 29, 2020

Mark Schremmer


As of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours of service changed.

Using the approach that providing drivers more flexibility within the rules will enhance safety, the new rules expanded short-haul limits, updated the adverse driving condition provision, added a split-sleeper option, and modified the 30-minute break requirement.

For further explanation of what this all means, the OOIDA Foundation has you covered. The research arm of the Association has released five brief videos looking at the rule as a whole, as well as specific takes on the short-haul exception, the adverse driving condition provision, the split-sleeper, and the 30-minute rest break.

Overview of the new hours of service 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, OOIDA 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.

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 its 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.

Adverse driving condition

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 updated 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 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 hail storm.

FMCSA 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, nondriving 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.

Lawsuit challenges the new hours of service

The new rules have gone into effect despite a recent lawsuit from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a coalition of safety groups.

On Sept. 16, the groups filed a petition for review of FMCSA’s final rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Before filing the lawsuit, the groups petitioned the agency to reconsider the final rule, calling it “flawed.” FMCSA denied the petitions, emphasizing that the rule changes did not provide additional driving time.

According to court documents, the petitioners have until Oct. 23 to submit a docketing statement and to file any motions in the case.

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.