Hours of service proposals add flexibility

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Proposed changes to federal hours-of-service regulations could give more flexibility to truck drivers who carry home furnishings products, industry leaders say.

“The proposal doesn’t change the maximum allowable driving time, but it gives more flexibility to shift drive time and work shifts to mitigate impacts of certain variables like weather, traffic, detention, etc.,” said Rob Davis, chief client officer for Home Furnishings Association member Diakon Logistics in Warrenton, Va. Davis is a member of HFA’s Government Relations Action Team.

The changes were published last week by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a notice of proposed rulemaking.

“This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a news release.

Break required after eight hours

Drivers still could not put in more than eight consecutive hours behind wheel without at least a 30-minute change in duty status. But the following revisions are part of the new proposal:

  • Allowing drivers to meet the 30-minute break requirement by using on-duty, not-driving status rather than off-duty status.
  • Modifying the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth.
  • Allowing one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modifying the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • Changing the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Steps in the right direction

Davis called the proposals steps in the right direction, noting that the short-haul changes can help drivers complete more deliveries in a single shift rather than incurring the cost of overnight stays.

The additional flexibility will be helpful, Sherri Garner Brumbaugh agreed. But the president and CEO of Garner Trucking Inc. in Findlay, Ohio, thinks some of the proposed changes are vague.

“There’s some level of concern that there’s an opportunity to take some license in interpretation,” she said, citing the bad weather exception which allows drivers to extend their workday if road conditions cause delays. “Someone could take advantage of that.”

Most drivers want to follow the law, said Brumbaugh, who also serves as second vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations. But they need clarity. “Right now there’s a little level of uncertainty.”

She also worries that some older drivers, whom she calls her “legacy drivers,” might become frustrated at more regulatory changes, which they’ve seen many times before, and decide to retire. And younger drivers might think the changes don’t go far enough.

Remaining issues are the difficulty in finding places to park the rig when driving breaks are required, and covering enough miles in a shift.

HFA members can comment on rules

Nevertheless, Brumbaugh is encouraged that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was responsive to industry input in crafting its proposed revisions. “I think they’re very receptive to listening to the industry,” she said.

American Trucking Associations, which said it will study the proposal in detail over the next few days and weeks, noted that rest-break flexibility, would let drivers use the on-duty, not-driving status to count as rest time they spend waiting for trucks to be loaded and unloaded, fueling or doing paperwork.

Regarding sleep time, ATA stated in a set of talking points that “providing opportunity to get sufficient sleep is important to reducing fatigue.”

The federal agency is seeking public comments on its proposed rules for the next several weeks. The regulations and instructions for submitting comments can be found here.

HFA members who rely on the transport industry to carry products should consider submitting comments. Brumbaugh believes the final rules could look different depending on public comments.

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