Breaking down the FMCSA’s 30-minute rest break exemption for heavy haulers

Updated Jun 26, 2015

Oversized heavy equipment haul turn

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it had granted an exemption of the 30-minute rest break provision in the current hours-of-service regulations to haulers of oversize/overweight loads.

The decision is certainly welcomed by the heavy hauling industry, but is a long time in the making. Below, we detail the history of the decision and how it will take effect over the next two years.

The rule

In December of 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule that would affect most property carriers, including heavy haulers. In addition to some changes in the definition of on-duty, the rule brought the 34-hour restart conditions and the 30-minute rest break that came into play on July 1, 2013.

The rule’s proposal resulted in nearly 24,000 comments, 8,000 of which were opposed to the changes. Over 2,500 commenters spoke directly to the rest break mandate.

Due to the attendance requirements of §397.5, the FMCSA exempted operators of commercial motor vehicles transporting Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 explosives. A circuit court decision quickly added short-haul drivers to the exempt list.

The FMCSA has a process for drivers, carriers, and industries to request relief from regulations in the form of waivers and exemptions. This process is found in Part 381. Shortly after the effective date of the rest break rule, livestock haulers received an exemption.

In addition, Department of Energy contract drivers transporting security-sensitive radioactive materials and Department of Defense contract drivers transporting security-sensitive materials received partial exemptions. Since then, Oregon timber haulers, ready-mix concrete drivers, and interstate bee transporters have all received either full or partial relief from the rest break requirements of §395.3(a)(3)(ii).

The exemption

But what about heavy hauler drivers? After all, an oversize or overweight load just can’t stop anywhere along the side of a highway just because the 8-hour clock has expired. On November 24, 2014, the FMCSA announced that for this, and other reasons, the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association (SC&RA) had requested a full exemption from the rest break rule.

After waiting nearly seven months, the FMCSA has granted a full, but limited length, exemption to “all specialized carriers and drivers responsible for the transportation of loads exceeding standard legal weight and dimensional limits—oversize/overweight (OS/OW) loads—that require a permit issued by a government authority.” The exemption is effective from June 18, 2015, to June 18, 2017.

During that seven-month period, the FMCSA analyzed the exemption application and the public comments and determined that the exemption, subject to the terms and conditions imposed, would achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent the exemption. In the granting of the exemption for permitted heavy and oversize haulers, the FMCSA outlined the agency’s rationale including:

  • The rest break “exacerbated” the number of times a driver of an oversize or overweight load had to park on a roadside.
  • The allowed hours operating on a permit varies from state to state.
  • There is less available parking for oversize and overweight vehicles.

The FMCSA set terms for a carrier to qualify for the exemption:

1. Drivers of specialized loads moving in interstate commerce that exceed normal weight and dimensional limits—oversize/overweight (OS/OW) loads—and require a permit issued by a government authority, are exempt from the requirement for a 30-minute rest break in §395.3(a)(3)(ii). Drivers of loads not moving in interstate commerce are not eligible for this exemption.

2. Drivers must have a copy of this exemption document in their possession while operating under the terms of the exemption. The exemption document must be presented to law enforcement officials upon request.

3. All motor carriers operating under this exemption must have a ‘‘Satisfactory’’ safety rating with FMCSA, or be ‘‘unrated.’’ Motor carriers with a ‘‘Conditional’’ or ‘‘Unsatisfactory’’ FMCSA safety rating are prohibited from using this exemption.

4. All motor carriers operating under this exemption must have Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores below FMCSA’s intervention thresholds, as displayed at