The Federal Register has received more than 170 public comments as of Oct. 7, favorable and unfavorable, since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) originally requested public input on a pilot program that would create hours of service (HOS) regulatory relief. The program would allow participating drivers to pause their on-duty driving period with one off-duty period up to three hours. FMCSA has set the deadline for public comment for Nov. 2, the day before the 2020 presidential election.
The Split Duty Period Pilot Program, which would allow drivers 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.
“The pause button, as you call it, would help because of being stuck at shipper or receivers or stuck in traffic (due to a wreck)," one commenter said. "This would greatly help the driver to continue on to a safe place to park and get a rest period in as it would help drivers to be able to continue the day without being in such a great hurry as to be a danger on the highway.”
Another commenter said the pause “makes perfect sense.” “[The pause] should have been implemented years ago. [It] would work great if you got held up at an accident scene, caught in bad weather, slow shippers, etc. With the most important reason being a driver can stop for a power nap and not feel rushed because his/her driving clock is always ticking away.”
“Please pause the 14-hour clock,” said another commenter. “We get to shippers and receivers, and it can take them three hours or longer. By the time they finished loading or unloading, we don't have time left to make it to a safe haven. This would help out a lot. I would be interested in being a driver for this pilot program.”
While many were in favor, many others pointed out the negative consequences, such as impacting sleep cycles.
One commenter wrote: “Extensive sleep studies were conducted and researched to come up with the 14-hour clock in the first place. Adding a potential three additional hours to the 14-hour clock would go directly against the sleep research and studies already done to create it in the first place. Strongly not advised.”
In that same vein, many commenters discussed the limits of human endurance in their responses.
“I have been in the trucking industry for nearly 30 years, and I am 100% certain that allowing drivers to pause the 14-hour clocks will be detrimental to safety,” one stated. “Fourteen hours is a long day; 75% longer than the average employee works in a day. To allow the driver to be on our nation’s highways in excess of 14 hours is a very bad idea. Drivers will choose to pause their 14-hour clock while at a loading or unloading facility while they are waiting but not resting. To think that the time at the customer is restful is wrong. Before the 14-hour clock was implemented, there was a saying in trucking that a driver ‘works all day and drives all night’. Please do not allow the industry to return to that mode of operation.”
Another point of contention was that the rule could be bent to benefit the carrier, not the driver.
“My first concern is that a 'pause' is a violation of HOS limitations of safe human driving endurances,” one detractor explained. “My second concern is that it will be used by carriers to pressure their drivers to use the 'pause' for scheduling considerations convenient to the carrier, not the driver. Only an owner/operator who isn't leased to anyone might be able to make the decision to 'pause' in an independent frame of mind, but he still can't 'choose' to drive as alert beyond the well-established 14-hour mark for having safe reaction times.”
This same commenter quoted Truckers Report, saying that “the proposal is very similar to the ‘pause’ provision that was proposed in an early draft of the HOS reform rule that [went] into effect at the end of September. One of the reasons that it was removed from the final rule was that there was concern that carriers would coerce drivers to use the ‘pause’ for non-restful detention time, tiring them out and effectively lengthening the number of hours they work in a day.”
Another remarked how dangerous the program could be for truck drivers.
“This dangerous push to put immature young minds behind the wheel of tractor-trailers has scared me more than I'd like to admit,” one said. “If this goes through, I will quit the industry. Hire one, you'll have two quit. We drivers are done playing games.”
Comments on the Split Duty Period Pilot Program can be made via the Federal Register through Nov. 2.