The federal government can't create more hours in a day for commercial truck drivers, but actions taken yesterday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) may provide more flexibility for drivers during the hours that they have.
The sub-agency of the Department of Transportation issued guidance that, effective immediately, allows off-duty drivers to use a commercial motor vehicle as a personal conveyance even if the truck is laden with cargo. The guidance updates a 1997 policy requiring the trailer be empty before the vehicle could be used as a personal conveyance. For years, motor carriers have allowed off-duty drivers to use their vehicles as personal conveyances.
Under the new guidance, a driver can operate a laden vehicle for personal reasons without running afoul of the federal hours-of-service (HOS) guidelines as long as the purpose of the operation is not to advance the load if they've run out of operating hours. A driver's workday is capped at 14 hours, of which 11 can be spent behind the wheel, with a 30-minute break during the first 8 hours of drive time.
One of the more common examples is a driver searching for a safe and accessible rest stop as the HOS clock is running out, especially if the driver has been detained at either a shipper's or receiver's dock. Another is a driver being woken up in the middle of the night by law enforcement ordering the driver to move the vehicle. In both examples, the driver is not moving the truck closer to its destination, FMCSA officials said yesterday in a conference call.
Returning to a terminal does not qualify as using the vehicle as a personal conveyance because it is part of an interstate move, according to agency officials.
Drivers following the modified policy will need to note their circumstances in their electronic logging devices (ELD), and to explain their situations to roadside inspectors if necessary, agency officials said. It is up to fleets to determine what type of vehicle use they would allow as personal conveyance, agency officials said in their written notice.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents about 160,000 solo drivers and micro-fleets, applauded FMCSA's action. Mike Matousek, the group's director of regulatory affairs, was quoted yesterday in the OOIDA magazine Landline as saying FMCSA "has made some positive changes to what movements are permitted using personal conveyance, many of which we've been urging the agency to make for many, many years."
In its guidance, FMCSA intentionally did not define what constitutes "safe parking." Nor did it specify the length of time or how far a driver could travel in search of a safe parking place. Agency officials stressed that drivers need to use common sense, noting that it remains the responsibility of the driver and carrier to ensure drivers are getting needed rest.
The shortage of safe, secure, and accessible truck parking has become a "national concern," according to comments on the web site of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), another DOT sub-agency. Although there are approximately 3 million licensed truck drivers, there is only parking for about 300,000 trucks, according to FHWA. Of all available spots, 90 percent are located at truck stops, the agency said.
A driver spends the equivalent of one hour of daily driving time looking for parking, according to a study last year by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), a non-profit research arm of the American Trucking Associations (ATA). This costs drivers about $4,600 annually in lost wages, ATRI said.
The problem may be exacerbated by the new requirement that virtually all trucks be equipped with ELDs to track hours of service. Drivers who in the past may have manipulated their paper log books to complete a 600- to 700-mile haul in one day even though they had exceeded their available hours will now be forced to break up the trip into two days. This will put even more pressure on truck and rest stop capacity. A more persistent problem has been drivers delayed at loading and unloading, which in turn cuts into their legally allowed drive times.
FHWA is in the process of updating its 2014 nationwide "Jason's Law" survey that assessed the availability of truck parking. The provision, included in the 2012 federal transport spending bill, was named for Jason Rivenburg, a truck driver who in 2009 was operating a fully loaded truck in South Carolina when he pulled into an abandoned roadside gas station to take a nap because there were no rest stations available. While Rivenburg slept, he was robbed and murdered.
Separately, FMCSA published changes to its hours-of-service exemptions for the movement of agricultural commodities. Currently, ag commodities hauled within 150 "air" miles, or about 176 ground miles, do not count against hours of service. In its update, the agency said any of the time spent working within that 150-mile radius will not count against HOS times. For example, time spent driving to the pick-up point, loading the goods, and then transporting the commodity within the 150-mile radius of the source will be excluded from HOS, FMCSA said.