Transportation industry groups are applauding federal regulators’ move today to relax as soon as September certain provisions of the “hours of service” (HOS) rules that for decades have governed how long a truck driver can sit behind the wheel before taking a mandated break.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) had previously loosened some of those same rules under a temporary decision that found the Covid-19 crisis qualified as a state of emergency. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which is an agency of the DOT, first lifted that HOS cap in a March 13 “emergency declaration” in response to the pandemic. And yesterday, FMCSA extended that policy through June 14, allowing drivers to log extra hours as long as they are hauling essential goods such as food, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Today’s announcement would make more permanent changes to the rule, which was first adopted in 1937 and opened up for change in 2018, when FMCSA gave notice it would receive public comment on “portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads.”
FMCSA now says it has listened to those comments and issued a final ruling. “FMCSA’s final rule is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. The rule changes do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent CMV operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break,” the agency said in its announcement.
Trucking industry trade group the American Trucking Associations (ATA) praised the move, saying the updated hours-of-service rule would provide professional drivers more flexibility, without sacrificing safety. “Today’s rule is the result of a two-year, data-driven process and it will result in needed flexibility for America’s professional truck drivers while maintaining the safety of our roads,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a release. “We appreciate the time and attention President Trump, Secretary Chao and Administrator Mullen have paid to our industry and to this regulation, which, while maintaining the core limitations on drivers’ work and rest cycles, makes smart changes to portions of the rules.”
The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) also approved of the changes, saying the agency had crafted flexible regulations for the industry while still improving safety, and had expedited the rule change to provide the maximum benefit. “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,” TCA President John Lyboldt said in a release. “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 Consumer Brands Association, a trade group for the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry, also approved of the ruling. “Consumer Brands commends the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) decision to finally adopt common-sense changes to Hours of Service rules which provides greater flexibility, addresses past oversights and makes U.S. roads and highways safer for all,” Tom Madrecki, the association’s vice president, supply chain and logistics, said in a release. “The consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry believes truck drivers are best positioned to make decisions about breaks, resting and driving conditions based on their professional judgement and needs. The final rule, issued by FMCSA today, helps to achieve greater autonomy for drivers and keep the flow of goods moving across the United States efficiently.”
The new ruling offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules, according to ATA’s analysis:
“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,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen said in a release. “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.”
The final rule is set to take effect 120 days from the date the rule is published in the Federal Register, which will likely occur within the next week, according to according to a statement by the Indianpolis-based law firm Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, P.C. That implies the change would come into force by the end of September, but that date could slide later if the rule is challenged in court by any of the various safety advocacy groups that had submitted input during the public comment period, the law firm said.
For example, one proposed change that has already been dropped was a proposed revision that would have allowed drivers to pause their 14-hour driving window with one off-duty break of between 30 minutes and 3 hours. According to the firm, FMCSA said it declined to include that provision because of concerns that drivers might be “pressured by carriers, shippers, or receivers to use the break to cover detention time, which would not necessarily provide the driver an optimal environment for restorative rest.”
Editor's note: This story was revised on May 14 to include commentary from Scopelitis and from the Consumer Brands Association.