Quick takes: Readers mixed on hours of service changes’ impact on their own operations

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Updated Jan 29, 2021

The FMCSA‘s introduction of its revised hours of service rule, intended to introduce some additional schedule flexibility for drivers, is nothing if not long-anticipated. When it comes to the details of implementation, questions remain, clouding some drivers’ quick commentary upon the initial news when asked what they most expected to obtain a benefit from in their own operation.

Plenty readers remained uncertain about which change, if any, they might be able to employ to benefit.Plenty readers remained uncertain about which change, if any, they might be able to employ to benefit.

The relatively small nature of most of the changes, and presumably some of the confusion around them, prompted Kristopher Jensen, commenting under the poll at Overdrive‘s Facebook page, to quip that he’d “benefit from the new 13-hour daily driving limit. … Oh, wait, they didn’t do that.”

More seriously, readers were divided on the ability to use the shorter period of a split-sleeper to stop the 14-hour clock, some fearing that drivers’ employers or owner-operators’ leasing fleets might take advantage of what may amount to the ability to effectively extend a duty window out to 17 hours. Under current practice with split-sleeper logging, the shorter period counts against the 14-hour duty window. The new rules allow it to be excluded from calculation of the 14.

The change “does nothing to help the driver or improve safety,” wrote Justin F. Keithan, commenting under the poll. “All it does is help the big companies take advantage of the drivers even more.” Such a worry is akin to that of Overdrive Extra contributing writer Clifford Petersen‘s, expressed last year as the proposed hours changes were being debated upon introduction. As Petersen wrote late last summer — read his commentary in full here — his concerns were coerced abuse of drivers’ schedules by outside parties, and devaluation of his own time at the loading docks.

“The temptation would be there to use [the pause] to gain back lost time spent waiting for shippers and receivers in those moments I can in fact release myself from duty,” Petersen wrote, which might devalue that time. “Can’t you hear the dispatcher, too?: ‘Well, if you use your three-hour stop, we can still make it by the set time after the load’s on.’ Never mind the driver wasn’t able to actually rest during that time. They should not be tired, right?”

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The new up-to-3-hour period in the final rule’s split sleeper provision will in effect be that pause button that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association proposed be allowed as an option for drivers. The way the split sleeper options work now is that a full 10-hour break, no matter where you are in a split cycle, allows you to regain your full 14-hour on-duty and 11-hour driving maximums for the next day.

Asked whether drivers would be able to use the three-hour off-duty pause this way, on consecutive days, so long as they continued to take a full 10-hour break for the longer period, resetting their 14 hours, FMCSA’s head of enforcement, Joe DeLorenzo, said the answer was, in short, yes.

For example, say a driver not already on a split-sleeper daily cycle takes a three-hour break. That stops the 14-hour clock. “If a driver takes a 3-hour break,” DeLorenzo said, “he/she then needs to pair it with at least 7 hours in the sleeper. If you use a 3-7 combination, you calculate [available hours] on either side of the 3, and the 3 is still not counted.” If it ends up being a 3 and 10 combination, though, the 10 hours off-duty resets your daily maximums — there’s the three-hour pause OOIDA had proposed in a nutshell, contained within the new split sleeper changes.

Andrea Marks, spokesperson for the driver group TruckerNation, says the new 7/3 split and the changes to the provisions of the split-sleeper allow drivers “new opportunities to customize their day.” She mostly lauded the added flexibility the new regs bring for drivers.

“The way it’s structured is completely different” than current regs, she says. TruckerNation’s mid-2018 petition to FMCSA was one of two, along with OOIDA’s, that FMCSA responded to when taking up the rulemaking to overhaul hours regulations.

Plenty drivers are in favor of the new split options, which are much less likely than the prior splits to erode daily duty hours over time. “The 7/3 split is the best change,” wrote reader Thomas O’Neill, who also singled out the adverse-conditions exception tweak for praise. That change makes existing rules more practical by allowing not only an extra two hours’ worth of drive time (previously in the rules) but duty time as well.

The largest share of poll respondents who perceived a benefit from the rules changes pointed to allowance for on-duty not-driving status, in addition to off-duty, to satisfy the 30-minute break requirement. The necessity of the required break, too, will be only after eight hours of driving, not on-duty time, an aspect of the change several drivers noted they favored.

Yet reader Laura Wade questioned why anyone would “throw away time” by using “30 minutes on-duty not-driving for the 30-minute break.”

The reality emerged from two replies, the first from Fred Ahlberg, who emphasized that, “instead of taking all 30 off-duty,” the driver will have the flexibility to “use a combo of off/on-duty. Like 15 fuel then 15 off-duty, grabbing receipt, snack, restroom, whatever. No need for a full 30 off. I’m not praising it, just explaining.”

Lori Salyers offered a different scenario. “Loading/unloading while you’re just sitting in your truck ‘on-duty'” can now thus also satisfy the break requirement, she noted — no more needing to go fully off-duty to satisfy the break requirement.