The long-awaited proposed changes to federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules for trucking failed to impress most drivers who spoke with FreightWaves, while a group representing independent operators praised increased flexibility that extends the workday.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on Wednesday, August 14, released five proposals intended to ease driving rules for truckers who haul 70 percent of the nation’s freight. The agency will accept public comment for 45 days before finalizing the new rules.
An Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in August 2018 drew more than 5,200 comments. Many criticized a 30-minute rest break required during or immediately after eight hours of driving. Under the proposal, the break could be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty.
“The 30-minute break is a joke. We don’t need it,” said Alex Costerus, a Colorado-based contractor for LandStar System Inc. (NASDAQ: LSTR).
The FMCSA also proposed allowing drivers to pause their electronic logging devices (ELD) for up to three hours during a workday. That effectively stretches the 14-hour workday to 17 hours, though the allowable time behind the wheel remains 11 hours in a 14-hour period.
“I think this proposal is another way for carriers to exploit their drivers,” Tim Philmon, a 38-year trucker told FreightWaves. “This is a way for carriers to force their drivers to work fatigued.”
Addressing drowsy driving, a contributor to truck crashes, was a major factor in the FMCSA’s 129-page proposal. Deaths from large truck crashes reached their highest level in 29 years in 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.
The three-hour pause of the ELD would allow an off-duty break without fear of exhausting available driving hours under the 14-hour clock, the FMCSA said.
“There may not be a one-size-fits-all solution, but the proposed changes are positive start since truckers don’t have any control over their schedules or traffic conditions,” said Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA). The association petitioned FMCSA for flexibility in the 30-minute break rule and for other changes.
The three-hour break could help avoid traffic congestion, the agency said. The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) said in an October 2018 report that traffic bottlenecks and slowdowns cost the industry $74.5 billion in operating losses in 2017.
Fairness vs. flexibility
The fundamental issue is fairness, not flexibility, Costerus said. Most drivers are paid by the mile driven but their hours are governed by an electronic clock.
“With the advent of ELDs, we should be paid by the hour like anybody else,” he said. “All those exemptions to the Fair Labor Standards Act should go away. If that exemption is removed, there would be no driver shortage. The whole level of the profession would go up. Shame on the OOIDA for adding this ‘flexibility.’”
Value of hours worked
Henry Albert is a Texas-based independent driver who urges fewer driving hours, which would make each hour driven worth more.
“As much as everybody hates the 14-hour clock, it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to us because it puts a value on our time,” he said. “Every time your competition stops the clock without charging for it, that makes the issue of time not being valued worse.”
In addition to the rest break modifications, the FMCSA proposed:
- Modifying the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth; and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither would count against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
- Extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted in adverse driving conditions, such as snowstorms.
- Changing the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the drivers may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
The FMCSA said the proposed changes would save the U.S. economy and American consumers $274 million.
“Who do you think is going to suffer that revenue loss?” Costerus asked. “This is a further erosion of a driver’s pay and equity.”