Cool Reception

Todd Dills and Avery Vise | February 01, 2011

FMCSA’s proposed hours of service revision stirs criticisms.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal to modify the hours of service rule has found little love from the trucking industry or safety advocates.

FMCSA proposes that drivers’ workdays must end immediately after the 14-hour window for driving time. Under the current rule, drivers can do nondriving work after those 14 hours.

The American Trucking Associations called the Dec. 23 notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) “three big chunks of coal under trucking’s Christmas tree.” ATA blasted it for unnecessary complexity and its potential to greatly reduce productivity.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says the proposed regulations fail to recognize how shippers and receivers impact driver on-duty hours.

The Truck Safety Coalition, along with Public Citizen and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, signaled a willingness to return the HOS issue to the courts if its demands weren’t satisfied, chief among them a reduction in cumulative daily driving hours to 10 from 11.

Comments filed online with FMCSA have been generally measured but dissatisfied, with a strong note of caution from drivers over the sheer complexity of the proposal. After the public comment period ends Feb. 28, the agency will proceed toward a final rulemaking that, under the terms of the 2009 settlement that prompted the recent proposed changes, FMCSA is obligated to issue by July 26.

After FMCSA held hours of service listening sessions in 2010 to solicit comments from trucking groups, carriers and truckers, many drivers believed the agency was working with them on the issue. They were hopeful for added flexibility in the rules, particularly addressing use of the sleeper berth for short rest periods that would extend the 14-hour driving window. 

Drivers have begun sounding off in comments filed with FMCSA and in myriad online forums about the provision, included in the NPRM, to allow extension of the 14-hour window to 16 hours twice a week. The proposed change was FMCSA’s only allowance for added flexibility compared to current rules, one whose goal the agency said was to accommodate special situations, such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports.

Currently, only carriers meeting certain requirements can extend drivers’ daily shifts beyond 14 hours, and they can do so only once a week.

On-duty time is one of the concerns of OOIDA, which highlights the problem of an HOS rule that ignores unpredictable delays due to shippers and receivers. “It’s not just how long a truck driver spends behind the wheel that affects the safety of everyone on the highways,” says OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “Many truck drivers spend between 30 to 40 hours per week waiting at loading docks. Everyone involved in transportation, from shippers to receivers, has a responsibility for its role in keeping highways safe.”

One of the long-standing complaints with the current HOS rule adopted in 2005 involves the sleeper berth split, but FMCSA proposes no change. To satisfy mandatory rest requirements, when splitting 10-hour rest periods, one of two sleeper berth periods must be at least eight hours.

And FMCSA says drivers using this split still would be subject to all the other daily and cumulative on-duty and driving limits it proposes, among them a prohibition on driving if it has been less than seven hours since a driver’s last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes. Limiting total cumulative on-duty time during the 14-hour window to 13 hours, furthermore, the proposal mandates at least two 30-minute off-duty periods within the window.