U.S. Department of Transportation Planning to Relax Hours of Service Rules
The Department of Transportation (DOT) is reportedly planning to relax what some consider to be restrictive hours of service (HoS) rules. These current HoS regulations were put into effect in July of 2013, roughly 6 years ago, and have been a heated topic of discussion ever since.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the Transportation Department, the current hours of service regulations for property-carrying drivers include:
- • 11-Hour Driving Limit – May drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
- • 14-Hour Limit – May not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
- • Rest Breaks – May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes. Does not apply to drivers using either of the short-haul exceptions in 395.1(e). [49 CFR 397.5 mandatory “in attendance” time may be included in break if no other duties performed]
- • 60/70-Hour Limit – May not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
Though the specifics of the plan to relax the HoS regulations are still unknown, it’s anticipated that the 11-hour driving limit will be the initial change. The requirement for drivers to take a 30-minute break during an 8-hour shift, as well as the requirement for an uninterrupted 10 hour period between shifts, may also be changed.
Proponents of Lessening HoS Regulations
The Associated Press reported that “Interest groups that represent motor carriers and truck drivers have lobbied for revisions they say would make the rigid “hours of service” rules more flexible.” In the article, a truck driver by the name of Lucson Francois was required to pull over and rest for 10 hours a mere 5 minutes from his home in Pennsylvania. Groups like the American Trucking Associations (ATA) cite examples like this for why regulations on the trucking industry should be lessened.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said members believe current HoS rules force them to be on the road when they are tired, during busy travel times, and in adverse weather or road conditions.
Opposition to Lessening HoS Regulations
On the opposite side of the debate are safety groups that emphasize highway and road safety. In a recent Large Truck Crash Causation Study conducted by the FMCSA, it was discovered that there were 4,657 large trucks involved in fatal crashes in 2017, a startling 10% increase over 2016. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that drowsy driving was responsible for 72,000 automobile crashes, 44,000 injuries, and 800 deaths in 2013. It’s widely believed that these numbers are underestimated, however, based on the difficulty of determining which accidents were fatigue related.
Groups like the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an alliance of insurance companies and consumer, public health and safety groups, believe that the industry is putting revenue before the safety of those on the road. Stating that the current 11-hour shift maximum is already “exceedingly liberal in our estimation.”
The ELD Mandate
The deadline to comply with the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate in December 2017 made the HoS restrictions harder to flout. With trucking companies now required to monitor driving time electronically, there is no wiggle room for drivers like Francois to add 5 undocumented minutes to their driving time in order to reach their destination. Some groups see this as a positive, others see it as a negative.
No matter which side of the debate you fall on, a balance between safety and efficiency needs to be made for the industry to prosper. The industry is currently feeling a slight lessening of the driver shortage widely reported on in 2018, which may help regulators reach their decisions. In the meantime, it’s up to shippers and carriers to plan ahead as efficiently as possible so that their drivers don’t get stuck at the side of the road.