The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has posted a “Frequently Asked Questions” (FAQs) document pertaining to the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules on its website, www.fmcsa.dot.gov. The FAQ section is intended to provide guidance for the rules until formal interpretations are published in the Federal Register.
While much of the document is a re-hash of information that has appeared elsewhere, I did find straightforward answers to many of the questions that cropped up.
- 34-hour restart
The provision that allows drivers to re-start the clock after 34 continuous hours off-duty cannot be used if they are in violation of the 60-hours-in-7-days or 70-hours-in-8-days requirement. In fact, a driver who is in an “over hours” condition cannot begin accumulating restart hours until the next 24-hour period after becoming legal under the 60/7 or 70/8 rule.
Drivers may use a combination of sleeper berth and off-duty time to accumulate the 34-hours needed to re-set the clock, as long as it's continuous.
- 14-hour on-duty rule
Drivers can be on-duty for more than 14 hours straight as long as they don't drive after the 14th hour. This will be especially beneficial to package delivery or beverage industry drivers, who must frequently unload their vehicles when they return to their terminals.
The 14-hour on-duty clock does not start ticking if a team driver goes immediately to the sleeper berth after 10 consecutive hours off-duty. For team operations to be most effective, you must ensure that one of the drivers does not conduct any on-duty non-driving tasks (pre-trip inspections, hook-ups, document prep, etc.) when they first go on-duty. I expect that many fleets will be tripped up with compliance “gotchas” if they aren't careful when planning and documenting what occurs as each trip begins and ends.
- 16-hour on-duty provision
This extension of the 14-hour rule is allowed once every seven days. However, drivers must have begun and ended their on-duty time at the same “work reporting location” for the five previous duty tours. While this may not sound like a big deal, think about private or for-hire “pedal” drivers who frequently overnight on multiple day routes. These drivers, who are probably most in need of this once-a-week relief, won't be eligible because the overnight means they don't report to work at the same location every day.
- Split-sleeper-berth provision
This option, which also existed under the old rules, can be used to exceed the 14-hour on-duty limit if all of the following conditions are met: (1) each sleeper berth period must be at least two hours long; (2) the second period must immediately follow on-duty time, whether driving or not; and (3) the two periods in the sleeper must total at least 10 hours.
The split-sleeper-berth option seems to be causing a good deal of confusion under the new rule. Part of the reason is that many fleets have never used it before, but are considering doing so now as a way to add much-needed clock time flexibility.
In addition, some people are confusing the version that's actually on the books with a proposed version being advanced by industry groups such as ATA. These groups have petitioned FMCSA to allow the 14-hour maximum on-duty time to be extended if the driver rests in the sleeper-berth for at least two hours.
There's no doubt about it — the new rules can be confusing. And remember that your drivers may have questions they're too embarrassed or too proud to ask. So here's my advice: Download a copy of FMCSA's Frequently Asked Questions document and make it the topic of a driver meeting. Don't be afraid to admit your own confusion or concerns. Going through the Q & A material and discussing it will give everyone a better understanding of the new regulations.
Most importantly, make sure drivers know the difference between rumor and fact.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.