New hours of service set to take effect Sept. 29

September 25, 2020

Mark Schremmer

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Despite a lawsuit challenging the FMCSA’s new hours-of-service final rule, all signs point toward the changes going into effect on Tuesday, Sept. 29.

FMCSA’s hours-of-service reform, which the agency says is aimed at providing truck drivers more flexibility, includes four major changes.

  • The on-duty limits for short-haul operations will increase from 12 to 14 hours and from 100 air-miles to 150.
  • The adverse driving provision will extend the driving window two hours if the driver encounters adverse driving conditions. In the final rule, the definition of “adverse driving” was modified so that the exception may be applied based on the driver’s (in addition to the dispatcher’s) knowledge of the conditions after being dispatched.
  • In addition to splits of 10/0 and 8/2, drivers will be allowed a split-sleeper option of 7/3. Also, the qualifying period doesn’t count against the 14-hour window.
  • The 30-minute break provision will be modified to require the break after eight hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time) and allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

The new hours of service rules allow drivers to take their 30-minute break while getting fuel, to extend their window when a wreck or other unforeseen event brings travel to halt, and to break up their times in the sleeper berth to best suit their needs.

OOIDA supports the rule changes, saying that the flexibility will give professional drivers more ability to determine if it is a safe time to drive.

“The final hours-of-service rule will provide drivers more opportunities to rest when they are tired, to stay off the road during adverse driving conditions, and to maintain greater control over their own schedules,” OOIDA wrote in formal comments submitted to FMCSA. “As the rulemaking repeatedly makes clear, these hours-of-service reforms will not increase available driving time. The changes will help reverse the rising crash rates highway users have experienced since the inception of existing hours-of-service standards.”

Opposition to the new hours of service rules

Several groups opposed the rule changes and filed petitions for reconsideration to the agency. FMCSA denied the petitions last month.

In response, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and a coalition of safety groups on Sept. 16 filed a petition for review of FMCSA’s final rule in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers are seeking to invalidate what they call a “flawed” rule.

“Under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle drivers by significantly weakening current hours-of-service rules,” the groups said in a news release.

As part of its filing, the Teamsters and the safety groups submitted copies of FMCSA’s response to their petitions for reconsideration.

Each of the letters from FMCSA emphasized that the rule changes did not provide additional driving time.

“FMCSA acknowledges your concerns,” the agency wrote in the letters signed by then acting Administrator Jim Mullen. “However, the agency continues to believe that the changes adopted by the final rule will not result in adverse safety consequence. None of the revisions allow truck drivers additional driving time beyond the current regulations.

“Except for the adverse driving conditions provision, none of the revisions allows drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicles after the 14th hour after coming on duty. None of the revisions allows the use of multiple or intermittent off-duty breaks to extend the work shift. Furthermore, none of the revisions relieves motor carriers and drivers of the explicit prohibitions against operating commercial motor vehicles while ill or fatigued, or coercing drivers to violate federal safety rules. Therefore, the basic parameters of the HOS rule that are essential to safety remain unchanged.”

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

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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.