Truckers talk 30-minute break, coercion at FMCSA listening session

August 23, 2019

Mark Schremmer

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FMCSA’s proposal for hours-of-service reform was more than a year in the making. So it’s no surprise that truck drivers were ready to provide their two cents at the agency’s first public listening session.

Dozens of truck drivers and other industry stakeholders attended a two-hour public listening session regarding hours of service on Friday, Aug. 23 at the Great American Trucking Show, while hundreds more watched online.

On Aug. 14, the FMCSA announced its notice of proposed rulemaking on hours-of-service, which is aimed at providing drivers more flexibility within the hours-of-service rules. Since the electronic logging mandate went into effect in December 2017, many truckers have complained that the rigidity of the current regulations forces drivers to race the clock, which leads to a decrease in safety.

In response to those complaints, the agency proposed five changes to 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.

“We believe (the proposal) modernizes current hours-of-service regulations to improve safety on our nation’s roadways and to provide commercial drivers the flexibility they need to do their work that is so important to our nation’s economy,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said. “This proposal is directly based on the more than 5,000 comments the department received from commercial drivers across the country. We believe the proposals in this rule will improve safety by offering you the flexibility you need to not feel like you are racing the clock, needlessly driving through congestion, or hunting for safe parking.”

Much of the public listening session consisted of truck drivers asking for clarification or suggesting slight changes to the proposal.

Many of those suggestions centered on the agency’s proposed change to the 30-minute break requirement.

The current regulation mandates that drivers take at least one 30-minute off-duty break for every eight hours of driving time. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association had requested for FMCSA to remove the 30-minute break requirement, saying that “there are many operational situations where the 30-minute rest break requires drivers to stop when they simply don’t need to.”

However, if some version of the 30-minute break is going to remain, OOIDA Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh said the Association would like to see drivers’ have the ability to split those break times.

“If it’s not going to go away … why can’t we break that up into two 15-minute breaks or a 10 and a 20? With ELDs, especially, you can log every second that the truck is moving and not moving. So wouldn’t it be better if they stopped and took three 10-minute breaks or two 15-minute breaks if they wanted to run that way? Why does it have to be a whole 30 minutes?”

Candace Marley, an OOIDA member from Iowa, drove the point home, saying that the 30-minute requirement has encouraged her not to stop and take breaks more frequently.

“I want you to understand how it affected me as a company driver and now as an independent contractor,” Marley said. “Before (the 30-minute requirement) came out, I stopped every two hours. I would stretch my legs, use the bathroom, get a drink, and made sure the blood got flowing in my legs. After the rule came out, I stopped doing that.

“Like a good portion of our trucking community, I am paid by the mile. So if the wheels aren’t turning, I ain’t earning. If I’m taking a 10-minute break every two hours and a 30-minute break that is less miles I’m going. That is very important to me and my paycheck, especially now that I’m an independent contractor and paying all my expenses. I need those wheels turning, but I need appropriate breaks. … I know anyone who is a driver in here understands why we push without that break. Beforehand, I got great breaks and now I don’t. I need those breaks back. My dog does, too.”

Pugh also used his time to encourage the agency to do something to help prevent motor carriers from using the hours-of-service changes to coerce truckers into working longer days.

“I ask that you look at your National Consumer Complaint Database where guys can comment about coercion,” Pugh said. “Because I know at OOIDA we have filed tons of these complaints about carriers coercing drivers. There has never been any action on any of them that we know. We hope if this goes forward and you do (allow drivers to stop the clock for three hours), one thing you will address is that site, so that if drivers are being coerced they can report it to you, and there will be action taken against a carrier that would do that do a driver.”

A second public listening session is planned for some time in September in Washington, D.C., but no specific date has been announced.

The 45-day comment period on the proposal opened on Aug. 22, and comments can be made at the Regulations.gov website by using docket number FMCSA-2018-0248 until Oct. 7.

OOIDA is encouraging all drivers to offer the agency its feedback.

“We are definitely encouraging all of our members and all drivers – whether they are a member or not – to please file comments,” Pugh said.

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.