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FMCSA considering petition to delay HOS changes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) confirmed that it is studying a petition by safety groups and labor to halt the final hours of service (HOS) rule despite the agency strongly backing the changes it made that are scheduled to go into effect on September 29.

Speaking at a meeting of FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee on Monday, July 13, Mullen acknowledged that “not everybody agrees with [FMCSA’s position]. There’s a petition for reconsideration which we’re considering, but we do believe that the hours of service [changes] can provide the flexibility for drivers needed so that they can operate more safely.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and four safety groups, including Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, filed a petition July 1 asserting that the four HOS rule changes issued last month will exacerbate driver fatigue. On the same day, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a $1.5 billion infrastructure investment bill that also includes a provision to delay the rule.

Mullen also announced at the meeting that FMCSA was once more extending its national emergency exemption for HOS for another 30 days, through Aug. 14. The previous extension announced in June was scheduled to expire on July 14.

“We all are seeing what’s happening with the increased cases, and hopefully that gets back on the decline, but we felt it was prudent to continue that emergency declaration for another 30 days,” Mullen said. The extension applies to haulers of livestock and beef, medical and healthcare supplies, and sanitation supplies and equipment used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.

Mullen also noted that even though most state driver licensing agencies have reopened to process commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), commercial learner’s permits (CLPs), and medical certificates after many had closed during the initial wave of the pandemic, many states are experiencing a processing backlog. “So we’re working with states to continue to grant waivers for medical certificates, CDLs and CLPs until the end of September,” he said.

In an update of the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, the results so far have exceeded the agency’s expectations, Mullen said, noting that the database has registered over 21,000 CDL holders who have tested positive for drugs or alcohol.

“I guess it’s a good thing that we’re catching these individuals who ought not be driving commercial motor vehicles unless they go through the return-to-duty program,” Mullen said. “But the bad side is there are 21,000 drivers out there who over the last six months tested positive. It’s obvious that this is a much-needed regulatory measure to prevent drivers from jumping from motor carrier to motor carrier and not have a positive drug test detected.”

Regarding drug testing, Mullen confirmed that guidelines on hair testing for drugs – a policy that the agency supports – have yet to be issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.