FMCSA Releases Flexible Hours-of-Service Proposal, Allowing Drivers to “Pause” Hours

Those in the trucking industry have become all too familiar with the hours-of-service regulation, which allows drivers 14 hours on-duty a day with 11 of those hours consisting of driving time.  They must then shut down for a 10 hour break regardless of where he or she is at, which makes detention an even stronger issue within the industry, eating up a driver’s time and often leaving them stranded as they wait to be loaded/unloaded.  With electronic logging devices now in effect, drivers and companies must strictly adhere to the rules or else face citations/penalties.  But all that may change.

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a 129-page proposal that would allow drivers more flexibility with their hours.  According to revisions, drivers would be allowed to “pause their 14-hour work day by up to three hours if they are not behind the wheel,” which becomes a large player not only when it comes to detention but other instances such as weather, avoiding peak traffic hours, even illness, allowing the driver the ability to “make the calls.” (1)

As FMCSA chief Raymond Martinez notes, “It puts a little more power back in the hands of the drivers and motor carriers.” (2)  Other benefits, according to supporters, include aiding in the driver shortage and improving turnaround times.

On the other hand, there are those who argue that the flexibility can lead to coercion to work longer shifts and increase safety risks from driving fatigued. (3)

Additional changes brought forth in the proposal include the below:

-“Short-haul exceptions: The proposal would lengthen certain drivers' maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours.  It would also extend their driving distance limits from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.” (1)

-“Adverse driving conditions: The proposal would modify the adverse driving exception by extending the maximum window of when driving is permitted by two hours.” (1)

-“Increase break flexibility: The proposal would require a break after 8 hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time).  The proposal also says the requirement could be satisfied by an on-duty break from driving, rather than requiring an off-duty break.” (1)

-“Sleeper-berth exceptions: The proposal would allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least 7 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than 2 consecutive hours, either off duty or in sleeper berth.  Neither period would count against the driver's 14-hour driving window.” (1)

The proposal will be open for public comment 45 days after it is published in the Federal Register and if approved, would take at least a year to go into effect. (2)