Trucking hours of service rule extends driving shift, mandates 10 hours off

The revised hours of service rule the Bush administration announced today will allow truck drivers to drive an extra hour each day, but will require them to take at least 10 consecutive hours off during the day. The current rule requires only eight hours of rest daily.

When the revision was proposed in 2000, it delineated between five kinds of local, regional and over-the-road applications. FMCSA canned the five operations areas in the final rule. The agency said having one rule for all operations greatly simplifies matters for enforcement officials and carriers.

Some exemptions, however, could affect drivers hauling construction equipment or materials. Drivers can restart their work week — 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days — any time they voluntarily take 34 consecutive hours off duty. But vehicles used in transporting construction materials and equipment, oil-field operations, ground-water well-drilling operations or utility service will retain the 24-hour restart provision provided by the National Highway System Designation Act.

Also, short-haul truck drivers may have an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period. A short haul driver is anyone who normally returns to dispatch or home after their tour of duty or shift ends.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration documents say the total number of hours drivers can work in a day will drop from 15 to 14, giving drivers a maximum of 11 hours of driving time and three hours of on-duty, non-driving time for loading, waiting or other activities.

The current rule, which was enacted in 1939, was based on significantly different driving conditions. Written long before air conditioning and the Interstate Highway System, the regulations were designed to prevent accidents and address labor concerns.

The current rule, which will remain in effect until the end of December or early January, allows a driver to be on duty for a maximum of 15 hours, with only 10 hours of driving, before an eight-hour break. A driver could technically drive up to 16 hours in a 24-hour period under the rule if he drove 10, slept eight and drove six.

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The 10-hour break will enhance safety, said J.B. Hunt driver Romar Smith of Birmingham, Ala. “I think it will be very good — less fatalities and less fatigue,” he said. Werner Enterprises driver Jeremy Chance of Louisiana was less enthusiastic about increasing the required break from eight hours to 10. “I don’t like that mandatory shutdown stuff,” he said.

The federal government has been planning new HOS rules since 1978 under the old Federal Highway Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission. The department has been plagued by delays, however. The most recent revision was announced three years ago and also required 10 consecutive hours off each day. But the rule included longer rest periods, or “weekends” of 36 to 52 hours and electronic on-board recorders.

The plan caused such an uproar among industry and safety groups that a Congressional effort blocked monies for implementation. Trucking companies and truck drivers singled out the on-board recorder as expensive and intrusive, while safety groups objected to the additional hours drivers could operate. More than 53,000 comments were eventually submitted on the proposal, which FMCSA says it considered in drafting the final rule.

One casualty of that process were electronic on-board recorders or electronic logs. FMCSA decided against the recorders for four reasons:

* Costs varied widely and benefits were not proven;

* Enforcement officials felt a design standard was necessary and does not exist for printouts from EOBRs;

* The phase-in period, under which larger carriers would have had to obtain EOBRs earlier than smaller carriers, meant larger carriers would probably pay more per unit and smaller carriers, the ones most likely to offend, would not have the recorders for up to four years;

* EOBRs raised certain privacy and litigation concerns among drivers and carriers.

The final rule prescribes further study of EOBRs. If they are eventually approved, the agency says, they will need to identify individual users, resist tampering, produce records for audit, offer easy access to HOS records to roadside enforcement officials, achieve acceptability among drivers and be cost-effective.

FMCSA considered three plans in coming up with its final rule: one authored by the American Trucking Associations, one from safety group Parents Against Tired Truckers and one created internally. It determined that ATA’s proposal didn’t save enough lives and one from PATT, while it saved more lives than FMCSA’s plan, cost too much money. FMCSA says it wanted to create a proposal that would mediate between PATT’s plan and the one offered by ATA.

The compromise didn’t make PATT happy, however. PATT founder Daphne Izer said April 24 allowing truckers to drive 11 hours is too much. “Ten hours is too much,” she said. “Studies show after eight hours of driving the number accidents go up.”