Truck driving is known as one of the world’s most dangerous professions.
Yet, drivers of large, heavy trucks must regularly meet tight deadlines set by shippers and receivers to deliver goods to warehouses and other customers on time, and fatigue can make truckers’ jobs both difficult and risky. In fact, according to a federal study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 13% of commercial motor vehicle drivers experienced fatigue at the time of their crash on the road.
To help keep fatigued and drowsy drivers of commercial motor vehicles off the road, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets hours of service (HOS) regulations for truck drivers. HOS rules control when truckers can drive each day, the maximum number of hours they can drive in a day and when they have to take breaks.
But this spring, the FMCSA presented its final rule on updates to the HOS rules to give drivers more flexibility in the regulation regarding when and how long they can take breaks.
“America’s truckers are doing a heroic job keeping our supply chains open during this unprecedented time and these rules will provide them greater flexibility to keep America moving,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao said in a statement.
The FMCSA’s final rule includes adding two hours to truckers’ allowable on-duty time, from 12 hours to 14 hours, and bumps up the number of miles drivers can travel in a day from 100 air miles to 150.
The final rule also gives drivers more flexibility over their required break times. Drivers are currently required to take a 30-minute break after eight consecutive hours of driving. But under the new rule, they will be allowed to perform other on-duty tasks that don’t involve driving during their half-hour break.
Moreover, drivers will also have greater control over their free time. The updated rulewill let drivers split their 10 hours of required off-duty time into an eight- and two-hour split or a seven- and three-hour split without it counting against the 14 hours of driving time allowed in a day.
Another modification has to do with how truckers manage under adverse driving conditions, which can include unexpected inclement weather conditions like fog, icy roads, or a heavy snowfall or a road shutdown due to a traffic accident. The FMCSA’s modernized rule will let truckers who experience such adverse conditions drive two hours more than the maximum hours allowed under normal driving conditions.
The rule change comes after the FMCSA first issued a notice of proposed rulemaking in 2018 to receive public comments. The agency later reported receiving more than 2,800 public comments.
The FMCSA says that by allowing more flexibility in the HOS for the trucking industry, the changes will produce a cost savings of $274 million for the U.S. economy and for consumers. The FMCSA reports that trucking industry in the United States employs some seven million people.
The industry, including groups like the American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade association for the trucking industry, and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), have supported the FMCSA’s proposed rule change. The OOIDA, in fact, called for changes to the rules in 2018 during the comment period.
In a 2019 statement, Todd Spencer, president of the OOIDA, said, “Truck drivers know better than anyone when they should take a break or when road conditions are too dangerous. They ask for flexibility not only for themselves, but also for the safety of all highway users.
“For too long we’ve allowed people that have never spent time in a truck to dictate a driver’s daily schedule,” Spencer said. “This has to stop.”
The final rule will go into effect 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.