New hours of service rules are being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget according to Elaine Chao, United States Secretary of Transportation. “At last year’s Mid- America Trucking Show, you told the Department you wanted flexibility… and the Department listened,” Chao told a crowd of logistics professionals at the 2019 Mid-America Trucking show in Louisville KY. Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association has filed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to the OMB for review regarding the current hours of service standards for drivers.
What is the NPRM?
A NPRM is a notice in the US federal register that announces an agency’s intent to release and enforce a new regulation. In this case, the FMCSA has issued a statement that they intend to amend the current HOS standards in an effort to provide drivers flexibility. Previously, the DOT and FMCSA have allowed interested parties to comment and respond to the idea of making these HOS changes. The comment period began in August 2018, and ended with over 5,200 responses – many in the affirmative for regulation change.
What Does this NPRM Say?
The actual text of the NPRM has not been made aware to the public yet, but the summary of the proposed regulation is available on the REGULATIONS.gov website. It attempts to address the three main driver concerns today – HOS, ELD mandates, and parking issues. Each of these issues is interconnected and often cause burdens on drivers. For instance, in order to meet HOS regulations drivers must immediately cease driving and often park their vehicles in precarious, often unsafe places. Some drivers must cut their workday short in order to find safe parking and cannot maximize their earning potential. Sometimes, drivers are detained at shippers and receivers and are thrust into a situation where they must jeopardize either HOS or safety out of necessity. The NPRM is meant to provide drivers flexibility by allowing them solutions to four main driver issues that make up the three main burdens – Short-Haul HOS limits; HOS Exceptions for Adverse Driving Conditions; the 30 Minute Rest Provision; and Breaking Up Fourteen Hour Driver Work Day.
Short-Haul HOS Limits – Current FMCSA regulations state that a short-haul driver, one that stays within a 100 air-mile radius of their starting point, can only work for twelve hours per day. Many short-haul drivers feel this limitation is unfair because drivers typically make money per mile. Limiting the drive time each day limits these drivers’ earning potential. Also, these drivers are restricted further than over-the-road drivers which are allowed fourteen hours per day drive time.
NPRM Suggested Change – Change the current regulation for short haul drivers to mirror OTR drivers and allow them fourteen hours per day drive time. This would significantly benefit drivers in earning potential and allow them more time and flexibility in loading/unloading situations as well as returning to their yard each night.
HOS Exceptions for Adverse Driving Conditions – The FMCSA states that despite adverse driving conditions, drivers must fall within the standard fourteen hour window. Changes like weather, failing infrastructure, or automobile accidents often catch drivers unaware and do not allow them to make up for lost time brought on by the adverse conditions. The current clock is strict no matter the conditions.
NPRM Suggested Change – With the suggested rule change, drivers who face adverse driving conditions are able to work two additional hours – totaling sixteen in a day – in order to make up for lost time. Adverse conditions often cause slow or halted traffic and drivers are able to rest during those times. So, despite weather or traffic, drivers are not penalized.
30 Minute Rest Provision – Federal regulation states that drivers must currently take a 30 minute break after driving eight consecutive hours.
NPRM Suggested Change – This change would eliminate the mandatory stop. According to many of the regulation.gov comments, drivers in the current marketplace are all old enough to understand their own bodies and feel capable of deciding for themselves when a break is necessary. Many specify that they take breaks throughout the day anyway and that making a 30 minute stop mandatory is redundant and unnecessary. Eliminating the regulation would allow drivers 30 additional minutes to drive that they would not have had.
Breaking Up the Fourteen Hour Day – This particular issue is particularly related to the three main concerns. Currently, drivers are only allowed fourteen hours behind the wheel and have a mandatory ten hour rest period. Many drivers sync to similar schedules and typically work the same fourteen hours every day. So, many drivers, in metropolitan areas especially, hit major traffic at rush hours and waste precious drive time. Drivers opting to miss the traffic by waiting out the rush hour crowd essentially sacrifice those driving hours and that earning potential because the ten hour rest period is still enforced. Also, nearing the end of drivers’ fourteen hour days, many drivers are competing for parking spaces and often spend drive time looking for suitable stopping places.
NPRM Suggested Change – This particular change has come as a result of significant petitioning from The Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and others. The change will allow drivers to “stop their clock” for as long as three hours daily in order to break up synchronized patterns with other drivers and allow drivers to break when they need. The three hour stop would allow drivers to split their drive time and rest time instead of taking each one consecutively. It would stagger drivers on major interstates or at parking venues and allow more drivers to drive or park safely. Also, drivers being detained at shippers or receivers could use the downtime toward their rest period instead of wasting driving time. Most importantly, it would allow drivers to rest as needed and not force them to sacrifice earning potential.
These changes have been in discussion for several years, but as of March, are now on the table to be recognized as possibilities. According to Secretary Chao, there is no current timetable for when the White House OMB will approve these changes, but many speculate that due to their urgency could be passed within days or weeks. One thing is for sure, the DOT and FMCSA has heard the drivers’ concerns and “understands the importance of giving [drivers] the flexibility [to do their jobs].”