FMCSA proposes hours-of-service changes

Under a long-awaited proposal from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, truck drivers couldn’t drive more than seven hours without a break, would have to rest for at least one hour during their 14-hour driving window and could only reset their weekly on-duty limits with a 34-hour restart that includes two nighttime periods.

FMCSA released the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to modify drivers’ hours-of-service regulations on Dec. 23.

One of the big questions had been whether FMCSA would reduce the number of driving hours allowed between off-duty periods from the current 11 to 10, but the agency chose not to decide, saying it would settle the question following public comment. The agency did say, however, that it is leaning toward reducing the driving time limit to 10 hours.

Regardless of the number of hours allowed per shift, FMCSA’s proposal would place new restrictions on drivers’ workdays. Under the current rules, drivers can conduct nondriving work after the 14-hour window for driving time. FMCSA now proposes to require that drivers’ work days end immediately following the 14-hour window and that there can be no more than 13 hours on-duty during that window. Put more simply, drivers would have to take at least one hour off duty during their driving shifts.

In addition, FMCSA proposes to require that drivers take a break of at least 30 minutes before driving more than seven hours straight.

Another concern in the trucking industry was whether FMCSA would increase the number of hours required to restart the 60 hours in seven days/70 hours in eight days limits on cumulative on-duty time. The agency proposed to leave the restart at 34 hours but with a significant restriction: Restarts would have to include two periods of midnight to 6 a.m. In addition, drivers would be explicitly limited to a single restart in a 60- or 70-hour period; current regulations don’t restrict the number of restarts.

FMCSA also proposes to give drivers and carriers some flexibility compared to current rules. For example, under current rules, only carriers meeting certain requirements could extend drivers’ daily shifts beyond 14 hours, and they could do so only once a week.

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Under the agency’s proposal, all drivers would have the option of extending their daily shift to 16 hours twice a week. The goal is to give them flexibility to accommodate special situations, such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports, FMCSA says.

Also, the current regulations say that a driver is on duty any time he is in a commercial motor vehicle unless he is in the sleeper berth. Under the NPRM, time spent resting in a parked CMV is excluded from on-duty time. And even in a moving CMV, team drivers can exclude from on-duty time up to two hours of time they spend in the passenger seat immediately before or after eight consecutive hours in a sleeper berth.

Disappointing many in the trucking industry, FMCSA left in place the strict limits on use of the sleeper berth that the agency adopted in 2005. So to satisfy mandatory rest requirements, one of two sleeper berth periods must be at least eight hours. And FMCSA says that drivers using the sleeper berth exception still would be subject to all the other daily and cumulative on-duty and driving limits it proposes.

The NPRM follows a 2009 settlement of a lawsuit that had been filed by several safety advocacy groups over the current version of the rules adopted in late 2005. Under that settlement, FMCSA is obligated to issue a final rule by July 26, 2011.

FMCSA will publish the NPRM in the Dec. 29 Federal Register, thereby activating the 60-day comment period. A copy of the NPRM is available on FMCSA’s website.