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FMCSA Reforms Hours-of-Service Soon: What to Know

On September 29th, truckers will breathe a sigh of relief as FMCSA hours-of-service regulations are loosened and allow more leeway to the driver. If you have been delivering for the many various State of Emergencies that have plagued 2020, you may have forgotten what the changes to the hours-of-service regulations entail. Here is a refresher on the four changes being made.

Short-Haul Exemption

If a truck’s delivery route involves traveling close to its starting point, such as a warehouse or other distribution center to local stores, the company and driver can quote 49 CFR § 395.1(e)(1) to make it so that the driver does not have to take a 30-minute break from driving during the day and can opt to track time manual in a time record rather than using an ELD.

Before, the exemption applied only if the driver was on duty for a maximum of 12 hours, and did not travel beyond a 100 air-mile radius of the starting point. Both of these numbers have been increased to 14 and 150, respectively.

Other stipulations for the exception apply. The trucker must start and end his day at the same location, and after his shift gets either an 8-hour break (passenger carrier) or 10-hour break (property/material carrier).

Adverse Driving Conditions

Perhaps the most complicated and hardest to understand change. Before, the adverse driving conditions section found in § 395.3(a)(2) and § 395.5(a)(2) allowed drivers to drive for an extra two hours when there were adverse conditions. However, this did not increase the total time of their driving window, the time range that they were allowed to drive, and implicitly encouraged cramming driving time into an already hectic schedule. Now, the driving window is also increased by two hours, so property carriers have a 16-hour limit and passenger carriers have a 17-hour limit when an unforeseen hazard is in play.

Beyond this, the scope of where the exemption applies has been increased. Before, the exception only applied if the dispatcher did not know of or could not have reasonably expected the hazard. Now, it applies if either the trucker or dispatcher did not know or reasonably expect it.

This one can be difficult to understand, so reading the FMCSA’s webpage on the change can be extremely helpful.

30 Minute Break

The FMCSA understands that there is a stark contrast between actively driving and refueling at the pump. This change acknowledges that.

Before, with §395.3(a)(3)(ii), a driver could not drive for more than eight hours consecutively without either a 30-minute off-duty or sleeper berth break. Now, a driver can fulfill his obligation with on-duty time that is not driving. Refuel, grab some coffee, clean the dashboard, answer phone calls, and get back on the road.

If the driver does not have thirty minutes of small tasks to complete, he can mix statuses to fulfill the break, taking ten minutes on-duty not driving and twenty minutes off-duty, provided one happens right after the other.

Sleeper Berth Split

  • 395.5(g)(3) relates to the sleeper berth, and will be modified come September 29th.

Before, a driver must have spent a minimum of eight hours in the sleeper berth, and two hours off-duty either in or out of the sleeper berth. Now, the split has been modified to 7-3. The sum of both parts must exceed ten hours, and the sleeper berth period itself cannot be excluded from the driving window, both forms of breaks must be present for them to not count against the 14-hour driving window.

The FMCSA provided an example to illustrate how it looks, and it went as follows:

  1. Driver starts at midnight and spends one hour on-duty, not driving (Midnight to 1 AM).
  2. Driver drives for six hours (1 AM to 7 AM).
  3. Driver takes a three hour break (7 AM to 10 AM).
  4. Driver is on-duty, but not driving for two hours (10 AM to Noon).
  5. Driver drives another five hours (Noon to 5 PM).
  6. Driver spends seven hours in the sleeper berth before beginning again (5 PM to Midnight).

In the example, both breaks were taken and therefore neith contribute to the driving window. The driver spent eleven hours driving and three on-duty but not driving, which adds up to the 14 hours.

Conclusion

These changes go into effect on September 29th, at around 12:01 AM.

Some of these changes might be confusing to understand, but if you dislike or disagree with them, you can take solace in knowing that safety advocates are challenging them in court. Currently no binding results have been reached from the court case, so the way things are now these changes will come into effect before the end of the month, and thanks to the lengthy court process could stick around until at least October.

Whatever side you takes on this issue, remember that driving while tired is a bad idea. If you feel fatigued, get some rest before venturing out more on the open road.

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