Changes to Hours of Service Rules

Bowing to complaints from the trucking industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed revisions to its hours-of-service regulations. Heralded as an opportunity to give drivers “relief from rigid mandates,” the proposed revisions are actually a thinly-veiled attempt to allow companies to limit the quality of driver resting time and extend the overall hours a driver can drive.

Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa condemned the proposed revisions stating: “Trucking is already one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs.  We shouldn’t be sacrificing the health and safety of drivers just to pad the profits of their big business bosses.”

Current regulations limit commercial drivers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour window after they come on duty. Proposed revisions would allow a driver to pause their 14-hour driving window by using an off-duty break, meaning that a driver could squeeze in a break during a regular shift and extend their time on the road by up to three hours.

In addition, where current regulations permit a driver to come on duty only after they’ve taken 10 consecutive hours of rest time, the proposed revisions would allow drivers to split their 10 hour break. Rather than requiring 10 hours of rest before returning to the road, the proposed revisions would allow a driver to come on shift after only 7 hours of rest and permit use of the remaining 3 hours at a later time.

Finally, under federal law, drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break if they’ve been on duty for eight hours.  The proposed revisions would  (1) make this break mandatory only after a driver has driven eight hours straight (rather than simply working eight hours since their last break), and (2) allow “on duty, not driving” time to count towards the break requirement. Accordingly, drivers could be forced to use their breaks during refueling time rather than how it was intended—to provide necessary rest and relaxation for drivers on the road for hours at a time.

While the FMCSA claims the rule will have no adverse impact on highway safety or driver health and wellness, it’s clear that the proposed changes are an invitation to trucking companies to take advantage of truck drivers and undermine the quality of driver breaks.

If approved, the proposed changes are not likely to go into effect until the end of 2020 or the beginning of 2021.