More flexible drive time rules proposed for truckers

Federal safety regulators are proposing more flexible rules for commercial truckers’ daily driving hours to give them more control over how they allocate their time between driving and rest.

None of the proposed changes would extend the hours they can drive in a shift. But they could reduce stress on drivers and increase safety on the road, said Tony Bradley, president and CEO of the Arizona Trucking Association, that is still evaluating the new rules to determine their full impact on the industry.  

Under the current rules, when a driver starts their clock, they only have 11 hours drive time regardless of delays on the road or at shipping and receiving docks, Bradley said.

“Frankly, this creates a possible unsafe environment as the driver works against the clock,” he said.

Under the proposed changes, drivers could split up their daily mandated 10-hour off-duty time. Instead of racing to get 11 hours of drive time in, the new rules would allow them to go off the clock for rest time when delays occur. 

Federal regulators propose rules to increase safety 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released the proposed changes this month in response to truckers and trucking advocacy groups’ concerns that time limits put in place in 2012 are so constrictive, they end up contributing to driver fatigue and more aggressive driving to beat the clock.  

Under current rules, drivers must stop on a dime to ensure they do not go over time limits – whether they are tired or not, or have experienced down time due to traffic congestion, weather and road construction. 

Electronic monitoring put in place in 2017 makes it impossible to fudge. Even a minute or two of extra driving to find a parking spot can result in going over the clock. Penalties can be stiff. 

Taking rush hour and weather into consideration

In Arizona, rush hour in metropolitan areas like Phoenix and Tucson can delay truckers for hours. Under the proposed changes, drivers could stop the clock for up to three hours when needed to rest or sleep as they wait out traffic congestion and other delays. 

“As an example, the driver might get tired during hour three on the road and want to take a break by taking a nap in the back of their truck. Under the current rule, that would count against their day,” Bradley said. “Under the proposed rule, the driver would get credit for the sleep they took. It makes a lot more sense.”

The proposed plan also extends drivers’ maximum on-duty period by two hours in the event of adverse conditions such as severe weather.

“We hope that providing this type of flexibility puts a little more power back in the hands of drivers and carriers to make smart decisions with regard to safety and the realities of what they’re facing on the roadways,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez said in a statement after announcing the proposed plan Aug. 14. 

Hours of flexibility top concern for drivers 

HOS flexibility was the number one concern of drivers in last year’s annual survey by the not-for-profit American Transportation Research Institute.  

A new report issued last week by ATRI indicates that breaking up the 10-hour rest requirement – allowing rest hours to be divided into 7/3, 6/4 or 5/5 split – would help them avoid bottlenecks.

The report concluded that the ability to split up the time would result in huge savings. 

“If only 25 truck trips per day avoided the congested weekday time period presented on the study segment, truck drivers would drive 4,700 fewer hours annually to move the same goods the same distance,” the report states. “This equates to operational cost savings of more than $300,000 per year for the 25-truck sample at that single location.”

The changes would make a significant difference for drivers’ pay checks, who report they have had on-duty driving time taken away from them as they sit and wait at shipping and receiving docks, sometimes for hours on end. 

FMCSA estimates the proposed rule on hours of service (HOR) regulations would provide about $274 million in savings for the nation’s economy and American consumers. 

Proposed changes 

FMSA is seeking comment to the Federal Register on the proposed changes that would:

  • Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time “without an interruption” for at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on duty, not driving status, rather than off duty. 
  • 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 period would count against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
  • Allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending the maximum window during which driving is permitted by two hours.

Victoria Harker

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