NATSO Analysis: FMCSA Issues Final Hours-of-Service Rule for Drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized new regulations governing commercial truck drivers' rest breaks on May 14, extending truck driver’s work days while still capping the hours they spend on the road.

The U.S. Department of Transportation finalized new regulations governing commercial truck drivers' rest breaks on May 14, extending truck driver’s work days while still capping the hours they spend on the road.

The agency issued the rule after weighing nearly 3,000 public comments, including from NATSO.

The proposal maintains the rule’s overall core principles – including prohibiting drivers from driving more than eight consecutive hours without a 30 minute break. However, regulators outlined amendments to the rule, including increasing flexibility for the 30-minute break rule.

Existing HOS regulations limit commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour window after they come on duty. Drivers may come on duty after taking 10 consecutive hours of off-duty rest time.

The new final rule makes the following changes to the HOS regulations:

  • Current regulations require truck drivers to take a 30-minute rest break if they've been on duty for eight hours since the end of their last off-duty or sleeper-berth period lasting at least half an hour. (This was regardless of whether they were actually driving or waiting on shipments to load). The final rule issued May 14 eases that requirement by making that 30-minute break mandatory only if the driver has actually been driving for eight consecutive hours. The break now may be taken as on-duty, not driving.
  • FMCSA increased the time that short-haul drivers can go without logging hours in their Record of Duty Status (RODS) from 12 hours to 14 hours.
  • The Final Rule also extended the distance that non-CDL holding, short-haul drivers can operate from a radius of 100 air miles to 150 air miles from their base or headquarters. (This provision applies to non-CDL drivers who do not drive through a state that requires a CDL for the type of vehicle being driven).
  • The Final Rule extends the current 11-hour cap on on-duty driving time to 13 hours of actual driving time when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions such as snow, sleet, fog or other unforeseen traffic conditions. 
  • The Final Rule also modifies the split sleeper berth provisions. Drivers can use the sleeper berth to get the "equivalent" of the mandated minimum of at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time. The rule change allows drivers to split up the time over two periods. One period would be at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period would be at least two consecutive hours either off duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver's 14‑hour driving window. (It should be noted that the Final Rule excludes an earlier plan to offer a "split-duty" option for the period of time that drivers would be considered on duty that would've allowed drivers to take one off-duty break that would essentially pause the driver's 14-hour window. The break would last at least 30 minutes but could be as long as three hours.) 

In comments previously filed with the agency, NATSO urged DOT to integrate truck parking considerations into its evaluation of revisions to the federal HOS regime in order to live up to the Department’s priority of addressing truck parking concerns. 

Specifically, NATSO asked the agency to refrain from looking at truck parking in a vacuum and to integrate the issue into other policy discussions and deliberations. NATSO also urged the agency to conduct a thorough evaluation to understand how the Proposed HOS Rule will affect truck parking utilization.

NATSO cited the electronic logging device mandate that went into effect in December 2017 as an example of a regulation that created a number of unintended and undesirable truck parking scenarios.

DOT’s May 14 ruling garnered mixed reaction within the trucking industry. The American Trucking Associations welcomed the rule and said it gave commercial drivers flexibility without sacrificing safety.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters criticized the changes, calling them “shameful giveaways to industry.”

Teamsters President James Hoffa said in a statement that expanding the short-haul exemption for local delivery will hit Teamster members the hardest and that the change would allow drivers to work 14 hours a day “without a single federally protected break during their day.” “That's the wrong way to go for safety and a slap in the face to the men and women who work tirelessly to keep our country moving," Hoffa said.  

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