Changes to Trucking Hours of Service Rules Could Make Roads More Dangerous
The Federal Hours of Service Rules are intended to protect motorists from drowsy truckers and to safeguard the welfare of the truck drivers themselves. Now the Transportation Department has proposed relaxing the Hours of Service rules, provoking an outcry from safety campaigners.
In August, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) issued a revision notice relating to the length of time truckers can drive without a break.
Previously, some safety campaigners complained the existing rules did not go far enough. Now they are greeting the proposed changes with alarm, warning they could cause more trucking accidents. Here are the proposed changes subject to a 45-day consultation.
Relaxing the Hours of Service Rules – What Are The Proposals?
- Amending the 30-minute commercial driver break clause to require a break after eight hours of uninterrupted time on the road, not on-duty time. The break requirement would be satisfied by a driver using on-duty/not driving status, instead of off-duty status. This means if a trucker must break to fuel up, use the restroom, or get a drink this counts as the required break.
- Allowing drivers to split the required 10 hours off-duty into two different periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in their sleeper berth and a second period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off-duty or in the big rig’s sleeper berth. This makes a 7/3 or an 8/2 split possible Neither period would affect the trucker’s 14‑hour driving window.
- Permitting a single off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not over three hours. This change would pause the trucker’s 14-hour on-duty window, giving the driver 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the conclusions of the work shift. Truckers could take up to a three-hour break to wait for the end of a rush hour, without impacting the trucker’s maximum on-duty time.
- Amending the short-haul exception given to certain commercial drivers by extending the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver can operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
- Changing the adverse driving conditions exception. Two hours could be added to the maximum window during which driving is allowed. The current rule states the additional two hours of driving time must fall within the maximum 14-hour workday. The new proposal could extend the trucker workday by as much as 16 hours in the case of bad conditions such as extreme weather or traffic congestion. The definition of “adverse driving” remains unchanged.
The proposed changes meet some of the demands the trucking industry has made for years. Interest groups representing truckers and motor carriers campaigned for revisions they claim will make the rigid “hours of service” rules more flexible.
Some highway safety campaigners say the changes are less about flexibility than longer hours for drivers posing a greater fatigue danger on the highways.
They point to recent government data that shows fatal crashes involving trucks over 80,000 pounds are rising. Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety told the LA Times flexibility appears to be a byword for deregulation.
“She warned the hours of service requirements, which already permit truckers to be behind the wheel of a giant tractor-trailer for 11 hours each day, are already liberal.”
What Dangers Are Posed by Fatigued Truckers?
Tired truck drivers cause as many as 500 fatal crashes a year in America. Relaxing the hours of service rules could increase serious and fatal big rig wrecks on the highways of Virginia and elsewhere in the country.
The FMCSA’s hours of service rules were first adopted in 1937. They specify the permitted operating hours for commercial drivers. Radical changes have been on the cards since 2018 when the FMCSA published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. It received more than 5,000 comments on proposed changes. The changes are expected to provide $274 million in savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers.
We are concerned the changes could offset any savings with a high cost in lives of drivers and passengers on the roads of Virginia. If you or a family member has suffered an injury in a trucking wreck, please contact our Virginia trucking accident lawyers.