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Trucks parked at rest area Photo: Fleet Owner file
A crowded rest area with overflow truck parking.

New, flexible HOS rule proposal due in June

After months of public comments and listening sessions, the DOT plans to ease HOS rules while still focusing on driver safety.

Some 18 months after the ELD mandate changed the trucking industry, drivers and fleet managers might get a regulatory reprieve. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation plans to unveil new, more flexible hours-of-service rules proposal in early June, according to a regulatory report posted by the department on May 1.

“In consideration of the available data, comments to the docket and the remarks of the participants at the listening sessions, FMCSA proposes revisions to certain HOS provisions to provide greater flexibility for drivers’ subject to the HOS rules without adversely affecting safety,” reads a passage in the April Report on DOT Significant Rulemaking, which was published on the DOT website on May 1.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a division of the DOT, first published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) in August 2018 before convening five listening sessions to obtain information on how HOS provisions could be improved. This came after the electronic logging device (ELD) requirement took effect in late 2017, making HOS record keeping more accurate. Since then, Congress and the public have requested the FMCSA to consider revising some HOS provisions, according to the regulatory report.

The DOT plans to publish the new rules on June 7. A public comment period on the revisions will be open until July 26, according to the DOT. The initial ANPRM generated more than 5,200 comments.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao told truckers at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March that the DOT “understands the strong interest in increasing flexibility and is giving it serious consideration.”

“This was key to assessing if a change would ease unnecessary burdens on the industry while maintaining safety on our nation’s roadways,” Chao said in March. “The department is listening closely to the priorities of truck drivers and industry stakeholders. These innovations will help strengthen the trucking industry, increase safety and save lives.”

In the ANPRM last August, the agency said it is considering expanding the 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption to 14 hours on-duty from 12 hours, extending the current 14-hour, on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a driver encounters “adverse” conditions, changing the mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of continuous driving, and reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour, off-duty rest break for drivers operating vehicles with a sleeper.

“It is time for an honest conversation about hours of service,” FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez said at the time.

He said that stakeholders have continually told him of the need for more HOS flexibility. The agency is willing to consider changes, provided that “safety remains the priority,” Martinez said.

Last year, Martinez referenced the 30-minute rest break as one portion of the rule that could be eliminated or changed.

FMCSA said at the time that the ELD mandate had “brought focus to HOS regulations, especially with regard to certain regulations having a significant impact on agriculture and other sectors of trucking.” Compliance with the ELD mandate is at 99%, FMCSA said, based on inspection data.

Agricultural rules

In a separate rulemaking filing on May 1, the FMCSA said it is seeking comments to help it determine if the agency should revise or clarify the definitions of “agricultural commodity” or “livestock” in the HOS regulations.

“Currently, during harvesting and planting seasons as determined by each state, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, are exempt from the HOS requirements from the source of the commodities to a location within a 150-air-mile radius from the source,” according to the FMCSA filing. “This ANPRM is prompted by indications that the current definition of these terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the HOS exemption applies.”

The FMCSA initially planned to publish the ANPRM in March but that is now projected to be published on May 13 with the public comment period extending to July 15.

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