New rules published this month will help truck drivers use their work hours productively. In turn, that can make the transport of furniture and other goods more efficient.
The changes to Hours of Service regulations approved by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration were sought by the Home Furnishings Association.
“The introduction of additional flexibility within the existing Hours of Service framework is likely to maintain safety while allowing carriers to make more efficient use of maximum driving hours,” the HFA said in comments submitted to the federal agency in September 2019. “The overall effect will be to help our members achieve their goal of safe, on-time delivery of products to customers at a reasonable cost.”
Agency makes four key changes
Hours of Service rules were originally adopted in 1937. The FMCSA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, made four key revisions:
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break after eight hours of consecutive driving, but the 30 minutes can be on-duty, not-driving time rather than off-duty time.
- A sleeper berth provision will allow a driver to split 10 off-duty hours into periods of at least seven or eight hours in a sleeper berth and two or three hours outside a sleeper berth.
- When adverse road conditions exist, drivers can increase their maximum driving window by two hours.
- The short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers will allow a longer on‑duty period – 14 hours instead of 12 hours – and an extended driving distance of 150 air miles instead of 100 air miles.
‘Operative word is flexibility’
“The operative word here is flexibility,” said Rob Davis, president of HFA member Diakon Logistics. “This is a step forward to provide flexibility based on what is actually happening. Unlike other jobs where you can take a break at any time, truckers can only take breaks when and where there is a safe place to do so. Having flexibility to make a 30-minute break after eight hours of driver time, as opposed to on-duty time, could be the difference between a trucker finishing their route and going home versus taking a break and working extra hours or not making it back home.”
Proposed revisions were unveiled in August 2019, then received 2,800 public comments – including from HFA. The final rule doesn’t increase driving time and continues to limit commercial operators from driving more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.
Nevertheless, the additional flexibility in allocating driving time, and in accounting for adverse road conditions – including weather and traffic – will generate nearly $274 million in annual cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers, the Department of Transportation estimated. The furniture retail industry will share in those savings. The trucking industry moves 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight – including most home furnishings products from factories and ports to retailers, and from retailers to customers.
Davis, a member of HFA’s Government Relations Action Team, noted that one proposed revision wasn’t adopted.
Appreciation for truck drivers
“The rule I think a lot of folks were hoping the FMCSA would incorporate is the ability to pause their 14-hour driving window with a break between 30 minutes and three hours,” he said. “The FMCSA recognized that this wouldn’t compromise safety, yet they opted not to adopt it.”
The HFA also had supported that change. It would have given drivers “the discretion to pause their 14-hour driving window, if necessary, with an off-duty break of at least 30 minutes but not more than three hours, if 10 consecutive off-duty hours follow the work shift,” the association said in its comments. “Although this should not be a routine practice, it balances a long driving window with a long, uninterrupted rest period.”
Davis, whose company provides final-mile delivery, logistics and warehouse management services, added a note of appreciation for commercial truckers.
“I believe the current crisis has helped put a big magnifying glass on how important our truckers are in this economy,” he said. “It’s great to see them getting some of the flexibility they need. My hope is that this goes a step further to ensure they earn adequate pay for what they do as well. It would be a shame if the net result is working more hours for the same pay.”