The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said today it is inviting public comment on proposed changes to rules governing a commercial driver's hours-of-service, the first suggested changes since the current version of the rules took effect five years ago.
In a statement, FMCSA outlined four possible changes: Expanding the current 100 air-mile (or 155 statute mile) "short-haul" exemption to the rule to drivers with 14 hours of on-duty time, up from 12 hours, so as to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers; extending the current 14-hour on-duty maximum by up to two hours when a driver encounters adverse driving conditions; revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8 hours of continuous driving; and re-instating the option to split up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers that operate trucks equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
In its advanced notice of proposed rulemaking, FMCSA said it has established a 30-day comment period to determine if hours-of-service revisions "may alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation's highways and roads."
FMCSA said the new mandate requiring virtually all commercial fleets to equip their rigs with electronic logging devices (ELD), has "brought focus to HOS regulations, especially with regard to certain regulations having a significant impact on agriculture and other sectors of trucking." While the comment may sound vague, those in the industry see it as validation of a long-held belief that the ELD mandate, which took full effect earlier this year and is designed to monitor compliance with hours-of-service rules, exposed flaws in the rules that those who drive for a living already knew existed.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents hundreds of thousands of owner-operators and micro-fleets, has argued for years that the country's truck drivers would be better off having the hours-of-service rules refreshed to reflect the current-day driving environment rather than having the ELD mandate forced on them. OOIDA has bitterly opposed the mandate from the start.
"Our members have continuously told federal officials that current regulations are overly complex, provide no flexibility, and in no way reflect the physical capabilities or limitations of individual drivers," OOIDA President Todd Spencer said today in reaction to the FMCSA announcement. The current hours-of-service rules "need to be updated to match the realities of freight movement and to truly improve highway safety," added Spencer.
Under the current rule, a driver can be behind the wheel for 11 consecutive hours—including the 30-minute rest in the first 8 hours—of a 14-hour workday.
Soona Lee, director of regulatory compliance-North America for EROAD, a New Zealand-based information technology consultancy to the trucking industry, said in an e-mail today that the advent of the ELDs has "provided a strong momentum for pragmatic revisions to the HOS rules." ELDs, which monitor drivers' hours-of-duty status through equipment attached to an engine, can be "leveraged for a better understanding of how drivers encounter their daily shifts and the impact of HOS rules on operational efficiencies, driver well-being and safety," Lee added.
Lee applauded the FMCSA's actions, saying the four areas it has identified are widely viewed as causing problems for drivers. "It's clear that FMCSA is asking the right questions," she said.
The first in what is planned to be a series of public listening sessions on the proposed rulemaking will be this Friday in Dallas, Texas, at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center.