Anyone who’s worked in transportation knows that hours of service rules can be frustratingly rigid–and now, the FMCSA is trying to implement a change truckers have long sought.
The Trump administration is making a move to relax federal rules that dictate how long truck drivers can spend behind the wheel. As The Associated Press reports, it’s a change long sought by motor carriers but opposed by safety advocates.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—a subset of the Transportation Department—announced it was seeking to revise its “hours of service” rules, which govern how long truckers can legally spend behind the wheel within certain timeframes. The rules include mandatory breaks, rest periods and “reset” times. Failure to comply can lead to individual drivers and their employers being cited, fined and punished.
“It puts a little more power back in the hands of the drivers and motor carriers,” said FMCSA chief Raymond Martinez, who told the A.P. that the agency’s taking heed from truckers wanting more flexibility and independence.
Under existing hours of service rules, drivers can’t be over-the-road for more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period—and that’s provided they’ve adhered to regulations requiring them to sleep, too.
While the FMCSA’s intent was to stop truckers from embarking on non-stop long-haul trips, the rule’s resulted in plenty of frustration, too. Drivers are sometimes forced to stop and sleep mere miles from delivery locations. The restriction puts many in the position of having to risk a ticket or whichever inconveniences may arise from delivering late.
The FMSCA’s change would let drivers “pause” their on-duty hours for up to 3 hours within a 14-hour window. That’d give truckers leeway in avoiding peak traffic times, inclement weather and dealing with ‘detention’–excessive waits for loading or off-loading cargo.
Martinez said the rule, if approved, won’t go into effect for at least another year. He said the rule preserves the safety facets of existing “hours of service” guidelines while giving truckers freedom to make their own calls.
“We put forward a proposal that retools current hours of service regulations so that drivers can have the flexibility they need to complete their work efficiently while promoting the highest level of safety on America’s roadways,” Martinez said.
However, critics have been quick to warn that loosening regulations might incentivize “bad actors.”
“The agency is offering flexibility without regard for the fact that it could be exploited by the worst actors in the industry, including drivers who will operate while fatigued and motor carriers who will coerce them to do so,” said Harry Adler, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition.
But, for the past several years, the trucking industry has undergone (and completed) a gradual, mandatory shift from traditional logbooks to electronic logbooks—a change that makes it significantly more difficult for drivers to falsify their duty hours.
Martinez says the proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register and open for public comment in another 45 days.