Top officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are confident that the hours-of-service (HOS) final rule will go into force on Sept. 29 as planned.
Speaking at webinar hosted on Wednesday by the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), Joe DeLorenzo, director of the FMCSA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, said his agency is “not anticipating any delay in implementation,” when asked if the rule could be held up.
Asked if the rules are still subject to an approval process in Congress, DeLorenzo emphasized that promulgating HOS rules is “not a Congressional action, they’re within our discretion through the federal rulemaking process.”
However, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have included a provision in their version of the highway bill that would delay the HOS rules by up to 18 months until an extensive safety review is conducted – despite the authority of the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations, according to the bill’s language.
The highway bill legislation, much of which is opposed by Republicans, is being considered in the House before going through negotiations with a version released last year by the Republican-controlled Senate.
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In addition, road safety advocates are considering challenging the new HOS rules in federal court, which could potentially delay implementation.
DeLorenzo also affirmed that drivers or motor carriers cannot take early advantage of the added flexibility included in the four provisions within the final rule. “Because the way rule is set up, they cannot be used before September 29,” he said.
The final rules, which were made public on May 14, make the following changes to the existing HOS rules:
- Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
- Modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split. Neither period will count against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
- Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
- Change 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.
During the webinar, Rich Clemente, FMCSA’s Transportation Specialist, clarified several aspects of the new provisions, including whether a driver can be loading or unloading during the 30-minute break rule. “Loading and unloading can be counted as your break as long as it’s 30 consecutive minutes,” he said.
Clemente also noted that moves within a yard, as long as the truck is not taken out on a public highway, are properly logged as on-duty, not driving time, means they can suffice for the 30-minute break.
Regarding the split-sleeper berth rule, Clemente recommended not attempting to make the split late in the day. “It isn’t really that helpful, because you’re not going to get a lot of time back until you get 10 hours off duty,” he said.
Clemente and DeLorenzo also attempted to resolve uncertainty around what constitutes qualifying for the adverse driving condition exception, which was also modified in the final rule. “The point is, did you know about the condition before you left on the trip – that’s really all that matters in terms of unanticipated events along the way,” DeLorenzo said. “Don’t overthink it.”
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