There may be a change in store for truck drivers’ maximum drive time. Right now, the federal regulations allow drivers to have only a certain number of working hours. Not following these regulations can result in a driver being declared “out of service” for a day or even longer; which of course is an inconvenience for their company but also money out of their pocket 1. These regulations can potentially keep drivers from their destination and families, even by just five minutes. They have to pull over and park for the required ten hours before they can drive again 1. Drivers are now looking for flexibility in the regulations so that the 5 minutes won’t affect them as much and can make it to their destination.
Fatigued driving is a serious problem in all forms of transportation, but trucks weighing as much as 80,000 pounds can clearly cause much more damage. The current regulations were put into effect for safety reasons; being one of the most important aspects of the trucking industry, this is understandable. There have been cases of fatal large truck crashes that were linked to asleep or fatigued drivers. Investigations are done very often in the trucking industry to make sure all precautions are being taken to keep everyone safe. The results are then used to create new regulations to keep that reason from happening again. Highway safety advocates are warning that the contemplated changes would dangerously weaken the regulations, resulting in truckers putting in even longer days at a time when they say driver fatigue is such a serious problem 1. Some say that even the current requirements of 11 hours of service each day is too much 1.
With all of this being taken into consideration, the lawmakers wrote in a May 2018 letter to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration chief Ray Martinez that the rules "do not provide the appropriate level of flexibility" and asked him to explore improvements. The regulations limit long-haul truckers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour on-duty window. They must have had 10 consecutive hours off duty before the on-duty clock starts anew and a driver who is going to be driving for more than eight hours must take a 30-minute break before hitting the eight-hour mark 1. Off-duty and on-duty time for most truckers is recorded automatically and precisely by electronic logging devices, or ELDs 1. These devices are wired to the truck’s engine and display the number of hours on a screen for the driver, making it much harder to fudge numbers than with paper logs. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety say ELDs are an accurate accounting of a trucker's hours and one of the most effective ways to help prevent drowsy driving. But for many truckers, the logging devices have only highlighted the inflexibility and complexity of the regulations 1.
Heavy traffic, foul weather and long waits for cargo to be loaded or unloaded keep them idle. All the while, the 14-hour clock keeps on ticking, pushing them to go faster to make up lost time. To prevent drivers from rushing and keep everyone safe, a bill was just introduced to electronically limit tractor-trailer speeds to 65 miles per hour 2. This will take up much more time and more of the service hours for drivers. Drivers are required to take mandatory breaks, which causes drivers to pull over even when they don’t need to rest at that moment 1. Not to mention that parking for these large trucks is often hard to find and they end up parking in unsafe places, like highway shoulders.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has been pushing for the 30-minute break to be eliminated. In comments filed with the Transportation Department, the group recommended that truckers instead be allowed to effectively stop the 14-hour clock for up to three consecutive hours. During this off-duty period, drivers could rest or simply wait out heavy traffic 1. People do argue that this solution would result in a 17-hour work window, heightening the risk of drowsy driving and accidents. There's no guarantee a trucker can or will sleep during that three-hour stop and a number of them would be driving at the end of a long period of being awake, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional society of doctors and scientists 1.
When federal authorities started the process of hours of service regulation change in August of 2018, the FMCSA asked for public comment on HOS regulation reform and received thousands of responses from the trucking industry as well as the public at large 3.
The public was asked to weigh in on these areas of the regulation:
Expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;
Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions;
Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8-hours of continuous driving; and
Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
The FMCSA also asked the public for comment on two petitions:
An Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) petition that would allow drivers to take up to a three hour off-duty rest break during a 14 hour day period. OOIDA’s petition also asks for the elimination of the 30 minute rest break.
A Trucker Nation petition that would “revise the prohibition against driving after the 14th hour of the beginning of the work shift, allow drivers to use multiple off-duty periods of three hours or longer in lieu of having 10 consecutive hours off-duty, and eliminate the 30-minute rest break requirement.”