FMCSA to Review Hours of Service Regulations

Electronic logging device for trucking industry with hours of service displayed on smartphone screen

Changes to Hours of Service Requirements Intended to Reduce Driver Fatigue and Increase Profitability

Driver fatigue is a factor in over 100,000 traffic accidents every year. When those accidents involve 18-wheelers and other large commercial vehicles, they can lead to catastrophic injuries.

Many commercial truck drivers are paid by the mile. To make money they need to drive as many miles as possible in a day. However, commercial truck drivers must also comply with federal hours of service regulations which limit the number of hours a commercial trucker can drive in a single day. 

The goal of hours of service requirements, of course, is to promote safety on American roadways. However, the hours of service regulations have remained largely unchanged since they were initially adopted in 1930. 

That is starting to change, as the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) submitted proposed changes to hours of service regulations. 

FMCSA Submits Proposed Changes to Hours of Service Requirements 

On March 28, 2019, the FMCSA submitted a notice of proposed rulemaking to the White House Office of Management and Review. The proposal is intended to add flexibility to hours of service regulations that apply to commercial truck drivers. 

In addition to reducing driver fatigue, the proposed changes to hours of service requirements would allow drivers to avoid traffic congestion by strategically taking their required rest periods. 

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has confirmed that the FMCSA is moving forward with changes to hours of service regulations. The proposed changes are intended to increase flexibility for drivers while maintaining safety for commercial truckers and all drivers. The proposed rule changes are scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on June 7, followed by a 49 day comment period that is scheduled to conclude on July 26. 

Potential changes to hours of service regulations include:

  • Expanding the short-haul exemption to 14 hours on duty from 12 hours on duty to be consistent with long-haul truckers
  • Extending the current 12-hour on duty limitations by 2 hours when truck drivers encounter adverse driving conditions
  • Revising the mandatory 30-minute break for drivers after 8 hours of driving
  • Reinstating the option to allow drivers to split the 10-hour off duty rest-break for drivers operating trucks with sleeper berth compartments

The FMSCA was also asked to address:

  • Allowing commercial drivers 1 rest-break of up to 3 hours during every 14-hour duty period
  • Allowing commercial drivers to use multiple off-duty periods of at least 3 hours to take the place of 10 consecutive hours off duty

Current Hours of Service Regulations Compromise Driver Earnings

Most drivers do not object to taking required rest breaks, but do not like being told when they are required to take them. 

Lawmakers have passed laws intended to ensure that commercial truck drivers are staying safe while on the road. This means safety not only for the driver, but also for other motorists who share the road with commercial vehicles.  

To do this, the FMCSA implemented hours of service regulations that limit the amount of time a commercial driver can spend behind the wheel. 

Hours of service regulations were first implemented in the 1930s and essentially remained unchanged until 2015 when the FMCSA issued new rules and regulations regarding on-duty and off-duty time for commercial drivers. 

Most drivers are paid per mile, and their earnings are limited by the number of hours they can drive. When drivers are delayed they have less time to earn money. And when drivers are delayed, they tend to push themselves harder to make up for the lost time. 

Commercial drivers must also accommodate shippers’ loading and unloading schedules, which are not always conducive to maximizing driver earnings. As a result, commercial truck drivers may push themselves harder to make more money, compromising the safety of other motorists on the road with them. Studies show that drivers who experience the most volatile loading and unloading schedules are the most prone to incidents or accidents. 

Shippers’ irregular schedules have an enormous impact on driver sleep times. Proponents argue that changing the hours of service regulations will give drivers the opportunity to take much needed rest-breaks without compromising earnings. 

In order to meet shippers’ schedules and stay in compliance with hours of service regulations many truck drivers are forced to rest during daylight hours when they could be driving. The unintended consequence is that drivers get behind the wheel with too little sleep, making them tired and slowing response time. 

Proponents of the new hours of service changes believe that the regulations will give drivers more independence, allowing them to judge their own bodies and current driving conditions. They also believe that the changes will ultimately make the industry safer. 

New Hours of Service Regulations Would Allow Drivers to Remain Profitable And Drive With Proper Rest

Many commercial drivers report being sleepy but not fatigued, or fatigued by not sleepy. This is a result of the human body’s circadian rhythms, which make humans wake with the sun and sleep in the dark. Unfortunately, to comply with current hours of service requirements, drivers may feel wide awake during the day but are unable to drive because they need to wait a full 10 hours before they can drive again. Then, having waited to start driving, they drive into the night when they are tired and their body wants to go to sleep so they can earn a full-day’s wage. 

To make matters worse, the cycle is further compounded as drivers go to sleep later and are unable to get back on a normal sleep schedule. 

The new hours of service regulations would give commercial truck drivers added flexibility to sleep when they need to, stay in compliance with hours of service requirements, and still earn a decent living. 

The new hours of service regulations are intended to focus on what we should be regulating - sleep - rather than hours worked.  

The stated goal of hours of service regulations is to keep fatigued drivers off the public roadways. New hours of service proposals are intended to do just that, and give commercial truck drivers the flexibility to sleep when they need to, while still complying with federal hours of service requirements and maintaining profitability for themselves and their employers. 

Robenalt Law Fights for Victims of Truck Accidents

In spite of the proposed changes to hours of service regulations, truck accidents can result in devastating injuries. 

If you or a loved one was injured in a trucking accident, the experienced truck accident lawyers at Robenalt Law can help. We will thoroughly investigate your claim to uncover the cause of the crash, and fight to hold those who caused the accident accountable. 

Contact the Ohio truck accident lawyers at Robenalt Law today by calling 216-223-7572, email trobenalt@robenaltlaw.com, or complete our online form.   

Tom Robenalt started his litigation career representing trucking companies at a large firm in Cleveland. For the past 25 years, he has used that experience to help victims and the families of those injured to secure compensation for trucking accidents.

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