Long-awaited changes to the federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules expected to provide additional flexibility to truck drivers and fleets were announced today, receiving some industry praise and plenty of criticism from safety advocates.
“Under the guise of increased flexibility, the changes will further exacerbate the already well-known threat of fatigue among commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers by significantly weakening current HOS and electronic logging device (ELD) rules,” a joint statement from four safety groups said. “The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has repeatedly cited fatigue as a major contributor to truck crashes and has included reducing fatigue-related crashes in every edition of its Most Wanted List of safety changes since 2016.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has made four changes to HOS in the final rule, asserting that the changes will increase driver flexibility and generate $274 million in cost savings for the U.S. economy.
“The Department of Transportation and the Trump Administration listened directly to the concerns of truckers seeking rules that are safer and have more flexibility – and we have acted,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen. “These updated hours of service rules are based on the thousands of comments we received from the American people. These reforms will improve safety on America’s roadways and strengthen the nation’s motor carrier industry.”
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase said the rule is in direct opposition to FMCSA’s stated mission.
“Deaths from crashes involving large trucks are skyrocketing with nearly 100 people being killed and over 2,800 more being injured every week on average,” she said. “Any regulatory changes should be focused on reducing this preventable death and injury toll. Extending truck drivers’ already highly demanding work days and reducing opportunity for rest will endanger the public.
“The rule issued today contradicts the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s statutory duty to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities,” Chase added. “At a time of national crisis, the administration should step up and protect truck drivers who have been heroically delivering essential goods and supplies, not put forth dangerous and deadly detractions from current safety policies.”
James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said that rule is a favor to industry.
“Allowing truck drivers to work longer and longer each day puts everyone on the roads at risk,” Hoffa said. “Many of these ‘reforms’ are shameful giveaways to industry. They fly in the face of the scientific evidence that was the cornerstone of the hours-of-service regulations, rules that required sensible limits on how long a driver could be on the job each day. Proposals like expanding the short haul exemption for local delivery and waste drivers will hit Teamster members the hardest. This specific change would allow drivers to work 14 hours a day without a single federally protected break during their day. That’s the wrong way to go for safety and a slap in the face to the men and women who work tirelessly to keep our country moving.”
FMCSA said more than 8,000 comments were submitted to the proposed final rule. Among the changes announced is the ability of a driver to satisfy the 30-minute break rule after eight hours of consecutive driving by using on-duty, not-driving status, rather than an off-duty status.
The rule also modifies the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off-duty time into two periods: either an 8/2 split or 7/3 split. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
The rule will also allow two additional hours of drive time for adverse driving conditions and 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.
“The new hours-of-service changes show that FMCSA is listening to industry and fulfilling its duty to establish data-driven regulations that truly work,” John Lybold, Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) president, said. “We especially thank the agency for moving forward with additional sleeper berth flexibility. While TCA and our members advocate for full flexibility in the sleeper berth for our drivers, FMCSA’s new regulations demonstrate that we are one step closer to achieving that goal.”
The final rule did not include a provision that would allow a driver to stop the 14-hour window for driving with a break of at least 30 minutes and not more than three hours, which was one consideration pushed by the industry.
“No rule will satisfy everyone, even within our industry, but this one – crafted with a tremendous amount of input and data – is a good example of how by working with stakeholders on all sides, government can craft a rule that simultaneously benefits the industry, specifically drivers, and maintains highway safety,” Randy Guillot, American Trucking Associations chairman and president of New Orleans-based Triple G Express, said. “The agency should be commended for their efforts and we appreciate their willingness to listen throughout this process.”
The 230-page final rule is scheduled to go into effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
“It’s no coincidence that this latest effort to expand hours of service began once truck companies and drivers were required in 2017 to objectively verify their driving time by using electronic logging devices to ensure compliance with federal rules,” Joan Claybrook, former administrator of NHTSA and chair of the Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, said. “We know that in the past, skirting the rules or falsifying hours of service records was common and widespread. Now that it is harder to do, segments of the industry have been clamoring to eviscerate hours of service limits and pushing dangerous changes like the ones issued today.”
However, road safety advocates have vowed to challenge the FMCSA’s changes in federal court, which could effectively delay rollout of the changes.”
The rule is likely to be challenged in court.