Exempt me, please

Feb. 3, 2017
Based on exemption requests, FMCSA needs to look at HOS again

It’s that time of year. We all dread it, but it is one of the few things in life that is guaranteed—and that is death and taxes.

You definitely don’t want Uncle Sam to come knocking at your door, so if you haven’t already done so, you are probably getting ready to  file your income taxes. You gather your paperwork, download one of the electronic tax prep programs, and begin searching for exemptions.

There was a time when it seemed exemptions existed for tax purposes. In our industry, though, they seem to run rampant when it comes to being exempted from certain regulations that relate to driving or even more specifically, hours of service (HOS).

No two trucking companies are the same in an industry with over 500,000 motor carriers, so it stands to reason that as much as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tries, one-size-fits-all regulations don’t really work.

Take, for example, HOS regulations, because these seem to be the easiest to understand when it comes to exemptions. Basic exemptions such as air-mile radius have come with the regulations, i.e., a basic understanding that if you operate within a certain distance, you do not have to abide with the hours rule, but, yes, it is an exemption nonetheless.

Now let’s muddy the waters even more. Let’s grant exemptions to livestock haulers, bee haulers, loggers, and the list goes on and on—all exempted from the 30-minute break. My point is that when you develop a regulation in which exemption requests seem to coincide with days that end in “y,” it should be a sure-fire signal that it may quite possibly be time to rework, rewrite and reissue rules.

Don’t get me wrong. FMCSA exists knowing that it cannot possibly make everyone happy when it comes to rulemakings. In fact, FMCSA even recently tried to invoke a negotiated rulemaking process that didn’t seem to go as was originally intended. But I won’t even go into the details on that one. Regardless, we know the agency can’t always make a rule suitable for everyone; it just can’t happen. And for that reason, the exemption process exists, and we as an industry must take advantage of that process if we encounter a rule that may not have the intended effect.

“Let’s stop doing all this work and create a rule that truly makes sense.”

In using that same equation, the agency must take some time to recognize that the prevalence of exemption requests must mean that the rule may not work as intended and the possibility may be that the rule needs to be revisited.

When it comes to counting the amount of times that HOS regulations have been revisited, I am running out of fingers on my hands. For the purpose of this column, however, it stands as an excellent example that perhaps they are not working as intended.

The people at FMCSA are not only dedicated to our industry, but they are dedicated to reducing the number of accidents that occur on our highways. In that same context, FMCSA never wanted to develop a rule that is accompanied by so many exemption requests.

Good or bad, such requests have become business as usual when it comes to HOS regulations, and the agency must read the tea leaves on this one to understand that the more exemptions requested from the 30-minute break, the more work has to be done on this rule.

The more FMCSA studies the benefits of sleeper berth flexibility and its corresponding exemption requests, the more work has to be done on this rule. Finally, the more states that seem to deviate from the federal HOS regulations, then the more work that needs to be done on this rule. 

Let’s stop doing all this work and create a rule that makes sense for a responsible industry to deliver freight safely. 

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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