Hours of Service rule for livestock targeted in Sasse bill; letter to FMCSA seeks HOS changes

  Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

The Hours of Service rule and by extension the Electronic Logging Device mandate are the focus of two recent actions coming out of the U.S. Senate, one as proposed legislation and the other in the form of a letter signed by approximately 30 senators and sent to the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The legislation, introduced this week, would call for a significant easing of the HOS rule for the livestock industry, which is now under an exemption not from the HOS rules. Rather, the exemption that runs through September 30 is for the ELD mandate that livestock truckers view as leaving little flexibility for an industry that says hauling live animals around is very different than carrying a trailer full of merchandise.

The bill’s lead sponsor is Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse. It does not provide for a further exemption from the ELD rule. Rather, it calls for significantly different HOS rules for livestock drivers, implementing an HOS regime that looks almost nothing like the current set of mandates.

Letter to Martinez thin on specifics

In the case of the letter, it was sent May 17 to FMCSA administrator Raymond Martinez. The letter is reasonably short—four paragraphs, and eight sentences—and provides essentially no specifics in its request to Martinez and FMCSA that the agency “explore improvements to the HOS regulations that ensure drivers across differing businesses and operations can safely and efficiently comply with such requirements.” Whereas the Sasse legislation would be specific to the livestock industry, the letter to Martinez is directed at the entire rule.

Martinez has said on numerous occasions that he is open to listening to suggested changes in the HOS rules. Beyond expressing a general agreement that there are problems with them, he has offered few specifics.

“We suggest FMCSA examine a wide range of options to address HOS issues and ensure safety, including, but not limited to, providing certain allowances for unique businesses or driver operations, elimination of unnecessary requirements, or improved utilization of non-driving time,” the letter from the senators says.

The lead signer of the letter is South Dakota Republican John Thune of South Dakota, who is the chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has oversight of the Department of Transportation, of which FMCSA is part. Notably, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Bill Nelson of Florida, did not sign the letter.

The letter may not have many specifics, but the proposed Sasse legislation offers up a more detailed list of changes in the HOS rule it seeks as it applies to livestock.

The reason the livestock industry has been seeking relief from the HOS rule is, first and foremost, the launch of the ELD mandate has stripped out driver flexibility in compliance, as it has for all truckers. But the livestock-specific reason was spelled out by Kevin Kester, the president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In a prepared statement praising the Sasse bill, he said: “Hauling livestock is inherently different than hauling products like paper towels or bottles of water. Live cattle can’t simply be left unattended in a trailer – especially in very hot or cold weather – for extended periods of time, and this bill takes that into account.”

Laying out the requested changes

Specifically, the Sasse legislation seeks (quote marks denote what is in the Sasse release; the text of the bill is not yet available):

--Would scrap the HOS and ELD requirements for livestock unless a driver travels more than 300 air miles from their “source,” which is the location where the livestock is loaded onto the truck. Dean Croke, FreightWaves chief analytics officer who has written extensively on HOS rules and their relationship to human sleep cycles, noted that most agricultural trips do not exceed 300 miles. Currently, there is a 150-mile exemption for agricultural haulers.

--“Exempts loading and unloading times from the HOS calculation of driving time.” Livestock does not have classic “detention,” but the act of unloading and loading a truck would not count against the HOS rules.

--The HOS for livestock hauling would move from a maximum of 11 hours total driving in a 14-hour window to what the Sasse release calls a “minimum” of 15 hours and a maximum of 18 hours of on-duty time. As Croke said, “non-driving can recharge your batteries, unless it is physically demanding work like loading hay.” But a driver that is resting while waiting for cattle—or really anything, though it’s livestock that is in question here—is recharging those batteries, though under the current HOS rule is watching his 11/14 hour limits tick away. 

--Resting at any time during a driver’s trip would not count against the HOS limits. This would be similar to the proposed changes on loading and unloading: neither would count anymore against the limits, whatever they might be.  But if the limit for the day is 18 hours, a driver at some point during that period might feel more flexible to rest for a lengthy period of time, knowing it is against an upward limit that is four hours more than the limit the livestock industry will face at the end of September.

--“Allow drivers to complete their trip--regardless of HOS requirements—if they come within 150-air miles of their delivery point.” This appears to be focused, like the 300-mile rule, on the reality that many livestock truck trips are in a relatively small region.

-- “After the driver completes their delivery and the truck is unloaded, the driver will take a break for a period that is 5 hours less than the maximum on-duty time (10 hours if a 15-hour drive time).” It was not immediately clear what impact this rule would have, as currently the minimum break is 10 hours after a 24-hour period in which a driver, from beginning to end, could only drive for 14 hours. A spokesman for Sasse's office was not immediately available for clarification.

This legislation would not be the only HOS-related legislation facing Congress. A bill introduced in March by Rep. Brian Babin (Republican-Texas) would also alter the HOS rules. But as a check of its status on Congress’ website shows, the only action listed on it is that it was introduced.