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FMCSA Changes Emergency HOS Waivers

A rule recently adopted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cuts the maximum number of days a state may waive hours-of-service (HOS) regulations during a state of emergency from 30 to 14.

This decision has drawn criticism from stakeholders, but which remains as a compromise from the agency’s more strict proposed five-day limit.

“This rule ensures that the relief granted through emergency declarations is appropriate and tailored to the specifics of the circumstances and emergencies being addressed,” FMCSA wrote in its Federal Register final rule announcement last month. The rule is set to take effect Dec. 12.

“This rule also revises the process for extending automatic emergency regulatory relief where circumstances warrant and allows for potential reporting requirements when FMCSA issues an extension or modification,” it said.

The change comes after FMCSA acknowledged that no specific “quantitative evidence” existed that 30-day emergency HOS exemptions have led to a “degradation of safety.”

FMCSA stressed that it is “generally accepted that driver fatigue increases risk of safety incidents, and that one of the leading causes of driver fatigue is driving for too long and working long hours without adequate opportunities for restorative sleep.”

This lack of evidence from FMCSA was a reason why a wide variety of trade organizations including American Trucking Associations, the American Association for State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association have criticized the initial proposal as a solution looking for a problem. They were joined in opposition by the state of North Dakota.

“Essentially, our biggest concern with the proposal was that FMCSA was proposing a five-day initial duration,” said Dan Horvath, ATA’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs and safety policy. “In our estimate, based on the feedback we got not only from our motor carriers, but from state associations and from other safety groups as well, is that five days is just not going to be enough time. So we kind of split the difference with FMCSA, and said how about 14 days? That’s what they ended up with, so we were pleased with that aspect. We’re supportive of that.”

“I think overall this is a great example of how the comment process and public feedback can help change the way a rulemaking is,” Horvath added.

“After hearing concerns from many of our state jurisdiction members, CVSA is asking FMCSA to reconsider the duration of the automatic regulatory relief that takes effect upon a regional declaration of emergency by a governor, a governor’s authorized representative or FMCSA,” CVSA wrote in a Nov. 2 letter to FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson. The group seeks broader autonomy for states.

“In North Dakota, the ability to waive hours of service quickly during an emergency without having to slog through a sea of bureaucratic red tape can literally mean the difference between life and death or the loss of someone’s livelihood,” said North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum in a Nov. 9 statement

Burgum also has petitioned the federal government to reconsider the final rule, which he said is restricting governor’s ability to waive HOS regulations for commercial truck drivers, and that the change will hurt farmers, ranchers and fuel distributors, and make it harder to meet the needs of citizens during weather-related emergencies.

“While we appreciate that FMCSA abandoned its five-day proposal, the 14-day waiver period is still too short, and we urge FMCSA to restore the 30-day waiver authority.”

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