FMCSA Unveils Long-Awaited HOS Rule

WASHINGTON (April 24, 2003) — Modest changes to length of work day and increased off-duty hours end more than six years of wrangling over truck driver hours.

The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today released its final rule on truck driver hours of service. While the changes narrow the gap between the Canadian and American rules, the two aren’t quite identical, and new U.S. rules certainly aren’t what anyone might call groundbreaking or revolutionary.

Under the new rule, drivers may drive up to 11 hours per day (up from the current 10), but are limited to 14 hours on duty in a given duty period (down from 15). The 14-hour duty period may not be extended with off-duty time for meal and fuel stops, etc. Only the use of a sleeper berth can extend the 14-hour on-duty period.

Drivers may split on-duty time using sleeper berth periods by accumulating the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty taking two periods of rest in the sleeper provided:

1) Neither period is less than two hours;

2) Driving time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not exceed 11 hours; and

3) The on-duty time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not include any driving after the 14th hour.

Each duty period must begin with at least 10 hours off-duty, rather than eight.

The 60 hours on-duty in 7 consecutive days, or 70 hours on duty in 8 consecutive days, remains the same, but drivers can ‘restart’ the 7/8-day period by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.

Acting FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg said the new federal rule will take effect on January 4, 2004, almost three years after the original proposed rule was withdrawn by Congress amid intense criticism from enforcement, carriers, drivers, and road safety advocates alike.

The American Trucking Associations has already announced its support for the new federal hours of service rule, saying the plan is easy to understand, easy to comply with, and easy to enforce.

“This is a package that our members can work with,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO. “We have worked hard all along for a rule that is a good mixture of common sense and sound science. It will allow us to meet the real world operational needs of the trucking industry and most importantly, do so safely.”

David Bradley, CEO of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, said he was pleased to see that the U.S. rules appeared to borrow heavily from the Canadian proposals.

“Both countries used the same scientific research, so it is not surprising that at the end of the day we would have a more harmonized system.” he said, adding that the inclusion of a reset provision in the new rule was a pleasant surprise to everyone.

Short-haul truck drivers – those drivers who routinely return to their place of dispatch after each duty tour and then are released from duty – may have an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period. The rules remain unchanged for motor coach operators at the present time. FMCSA said it didn’t have enough data to begin formulating a new operating strategy for that sector.

In a nutshell, the new U.S. rule shortens the length of the drivers’ workday by one hour, but adds one hour of available driving time. It also increases the rest requirements by two hours per day, which FMCSA says will help to increase driver alertness and reduce fatigue-related incidents.

The one technically significant change in the rule is that it more closely mirrors the body’s natural 24-hour Circadian rhythms, unlike the current rule which is based on an 18-hour day for most long-haul applications.

Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator and Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA) said that it was grateful to FMCSA for abandoning the most disturbing parts of its initial proposal, especially the proposal for 24-hour-a-day electronic surveillance of drivers, but added there will be only limited gains in road safety under the new rule.

“Not until shippers and carriers stop pressuring drivers to break the rules, and drivers are paid for all the work they do, will the hours-of-service rules have their intended effect,” said Johnston. “After almost 65 years of working with regulatory controls that should have been declared obsolete decades ago, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a revision to address today’s problems.”

While FMCSA announced no immediate plans to mandate the use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBR), or ‘black boxes’, it will be expanding its research into EOBR and other technologies, including evaluating alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use to ensure HOS record-keeping and compliance.

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