For the first time in more than 20 years, the federal agency responsible for motor carrier regulation has issued official guidance on personal conveyance. That's where a commercial truck or bus driver can operate the vehicle while off duty and isn't subject to on-duty hours restrictions.
It's also been a focal point of confusion for fleets and drivers regarding the federal Hours of Service (HOS) rules since the onset of electronic logging devices (ELDs), which require that all movement of the commercial vehicle be precisely accounted for. Prior to that in the predominantly paper log era, documenting personal conveyance was more relaxed, so essentially, it was no big deal.
It's a good idea to read carefully through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) new guidance on personal conveyance, which is expected to be published in the Federal Register next week.
But here are the essentials to know:
1. This is not a requirement — it's up to the carrier whether to allow personal conveyance of the commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
"Just because something is allowed by the law doesn't necessarily mean it has to be allowed by the carrier," noted Joe DeLorenzo, head of FMCSA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement, on a call with media yesterday afternoon.
2. If the carrier does allow personal conveyance, there are no limits that must be placed on it.
The federal government has no mileage restrictions like 30 miles, 50 miles, etc. or specific times of day for what's allowable. However, again, the carrier can set limits like that, if it so chooses.
"The carrier has the right to put limits on it or not put limits on it — do whatever they want," DeLorenzo said.
3. Carriers should be clear on their personal conveyance policy.
As complex an issue as personal conveyance can become, it's a good idea for carriers to spell out their position on it clearly with their drivers. FMCSA recommends that carriers have a policy in place on what they do or do not allow regarding personal conveyance, including any limits.
4. The driver must be off duty for it to be personal conveyance.
While there are many specific instances to consider whether they can legitimately count as personal conveyance, "first of all, it's an off-duty status," DeLorenzo stressed. "In order to be off duty, the guidance is clear that you have to be relieved from work and from responsibility by the employer."
5. The purpose of a personal conveyance move has to be, after all, personal.
In addition to taking place while off duty, a personal conveyance of the CMV cannot advance a load being carried or the driver's job in some way. If it does, that's on-duty driving time, not personal conveyance. FMCSA also referred to this point in the guidance as whether a move "enhances operational readiness."
Details are very important here. DeLorenzo gave an example where a driver is delivering or picking up a load at a shipper or carrier and it takes longer than planned, using up the driver's available hours of service, and then is told to leave the property.
That's a scenario drivers cite very frequently. If the driver at that point goes off duty and moves the CMV under personal conveyance to the nearest safe parking spot to continue required off-duty time, YES, that's a legitimate use of personal conveyance.
But if the driver were to pass the nearest safe parking spot in order to get to another location that's closer to their next delivery or pickup, that's advancing the load/job and is NOT personal conveyance. DeLorenzo emphasized "safe, reasonable" parking for the truck several times, urging drivers and carriers to use good judgment.
The goal of the federal Hours of Service rules is safety — not to make life difficult for drivers. FMCSA has been clear to acknowledge that in the real world of trucking today, things happen. This guidance on personal conveyance isn't just for carriers and drivers, the agency noted, it's just as much for law enforcement to be clear on what's allowed and foster "reasonable" conversations at the roadside, when it comes to that.
"FMCSA recognizes that much of the pressure on drivers . . . results from delays during the loading or unloading process, causing a driver to run out of hours," the agency stated. "This guidance will have a positive impact . . . by giving drivers the flexibility to locate and obtain adequate rest, as this would be off-duty time in personal conveyance status."
6. The CMV can be loaded or empty during personal conveyance.
In a key change under this new guidance, a commercial motor vehicle can be laden or unladen during personal conveyance. It now means that straight trucks can be part of this as well; before, since those can't unhitch from their trailer and cargo, straight trucks weren't allowed to be used for personal conveyance.
"The revised guidance allows these vehicles, under the circumstances described in the guidance, to be driven as a personal conveyance," FMCSA noted. Similarly, a semi-truck doesn't need to be unhitched from its trailer or be pulling an empty trailer for a personal conveyance, as would be the case in the scenario discussed in No. 5 above.
Putting it succinctly, FMCSA stated, "This guidance now applies regardless of whether the vehicle is laden. However, the requirement for the driver to be off duty still exists."
7. Personal conveyance does not affect the driver's on-duty time.
It should go without saying, but personal conveyance is an off-duty drive status and therefore has no effect on the driver's available hours of service, or on-duty time.
"There are no impacts [from personal conveyance] to the 11- or 14-hour limitations for truck drivers, the 10- or 15-hour limitations for bus drivers, the 60/70-hour limitations, the 34-hour restart provisions, or any other on-duty status," FMCSA pointed out in the guidance.
8. A move when the driver is parked and off duty can be personal conveyance.
Going to a restaurant, pursuing a personal activity, going to find a safe bathroom, or moving the CMV in response to a law enforcement request while the driver is off duty — these would all be moves permissible as personal conveyance.
Caveats there, once again, are that the move must be personal in nature. It cannot advance the load, "enhance operational readiness" or be "for the commercial benefit of the carrier," and the personal conveyance (personal use) of whatever kind must be allowed by the carrier.
9. The driver does not have to return to the last on-duty location after a personal conveyance.
FMCSA clarified in the guidance that there is no requirement that the driver return to his or her last on-duty location after a personal conveyance move.
"A driver may resume on-duty status immediately after an off-duty status, regardless of the location of the CMV," the agency stated.
10. A commute with the truck to and from the terminal or similar location, if allowed by the carrier/ employer, can be personal conveyance.
A commercial driver taking the CMV to and from home was a scenario a number of carriers apparently asked about as this guidance was being finalized.
"Commuting time from work comes up a lot," DeLorenzo noted on the call. "If you truly are going from home to work — to the yard to pick up a trailer or to somewhere like that — that personal time driving to work is considered to be personal conveyance, and the same thing on the opposite end."
Also in that regard, once again, there is no mileage limit that a carrier would need to place on such a legitimate commute.
Go to https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/regulations/404421/cmv-personal-conveyance-regulatory-guidance.pdf to read the guidance in its entirety.