The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) hours of service (HOS) rules have been controversial and complicated. A lot of talk has surrounded the HOS regulations, and whether they will become a rule again or not is up in the air. However, it appears the HOS rules have been dealt a decisive blow.
Truck drivers and carriers said the rules were unnecessary and costly. FMCSA and safety advocates said the HOS rules were a step in the right direction for highway safety. Neither side has been able to factually prove their point yet.
As a reminder, the 34-hour restart provision was the most controversial part of the 2013 HOS update. The 2 main components of this provision are:
Two periods of 1:00 a.m. – 5:00 a.m. had to be included within the mandatory 34-hour restart period
One restart per week
Since the initial implementation of these provisions, the rules were highly contested and eventually suspended for further study. The 34-hour restart rule has been suspended until the FMCSA submits the CMV Driver Restart Study to Congress.
The FMCSA, who created the regulations, was tasked with conducting a study to prove the effectiveness of the rules. The study was supposed to be complete by September 2015, and originally there were no clear consequences of the study. In the original congressional mandate, there was no language tying the results of the study to the suspension of the HOS rules.
However, Congress has now amended this language and made the study much more complicated.
Congress stated that the study must “demonstrate statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules, in comparison to commercial motor vehicle drivers who operated under the restart provisions in effect on June 30, 2013.”
The study uses data collected from:
ELDs, which track drivers’ time on duty
Psychomotor Vigilance Tests, which measure alertness
Actigraph watches, which assess sleep
Camera-based onboard monitoring systems, which record/measure SCEs and driver alertness
Self-report questionnaires , which measure sleepiness, stress, hours slept and caffeine intake
The 34-hour restart provision was only in effect for 18 months, limiting the FMCSA’s data sample. With this type of study, it is extremely difficult to exclude certain variables, such as weather, the economy and the state of infrastructure. Even with full access to heavy duty vehicle crash rates, it’s nearly impossible to tell what crashes were caused by fatigue if it wasn’t reported that way.
It was already extremely difficult to prove the effectiveness of the HOS rules, but now it’s even harder. A 34-hour restart period would very likely improve operator fatigue, but would it also improve drivers’ work schedules? What about their health and longevity? And, most importantly, does this restart period really improve safety on the roads?
The FMCSA is searching for these answers, and they must prove that the restart period improves them all.
In July 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented some significant changes to the way drivers record their hours on duty. The 3 main changes included were:
Drivers have to include two 1:00 am – 5:00 am time intervals within the required 34-hour restart period
Drivers can only restart once per week (168 hours)
Drivers are required to take one 30 minute rest break during every 8 hours of driving
What Happened to These Regulations?
Since then, things have been complicated. In December 2014, Congress suspended the HOS regulations, except for the 30-minute rest break, after many complaints within the industry and an apparent lack of evidence that the rules improve safety without hurting productivity. Congress required FMCSA to conduct a cost and safety analysis of the HOS regulations to see how it affects efficiency for carriers. The suspension will be provoked upon completion of the study, or September 30th, whichever date is later.
There are three major factors that will come into play for the outcome of the HOS regulations: the release of the FMCSA study, the 2016 funding bill for transportation, housing and urban development (THUD), and the infrastructure/highway/transportation bill. The THUD bill will pay the operating costs of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), while the infrastructure bill will pay the actual cost of construction and repair for roads and bridges.
FMCSA has put a lot of work into this study but it is unlikely it will be finished before September 2015. Sometime between November 2015 and January 2016 would be more likely. If Congress doesn’t directly address the HOS rules in the THUD appropriations or the infrastructure bill, the HOS rules suspension will be lifted immediately, regardless of the study’s results.
THUD Appropriations Bill
A THUD appropriations bill was passed through the House on June 9th, 2015. This bill includes language that would keep the HOS rules suspended. The potential bill says the suspension will be extended if the FMCSA study did not show “statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules in comparison to commercial motor vehicle drivers who operated under restart provisions in effect June 30, 2013.”
The infrastructure funding bill could also play a role in the future of HOS regulations. There’s a current highway bill with funding through October 29, 2015, but several members of Congress are working on a long-term bill. This long-term bill could include language to either extend or remove the suspension of HOS requirements, but it’s not clear whether this is their intention or not. There is no requirement that the rules be addressed in the infrastructure bill.
As of now, there is nothing authoritative or conclusive on the safety and productivity effects of the most recently proposed HOS rules. However, this doesn’t mean the rules haven’t changed since the suspension.
What are the Current HOS Rules?
There are still a few Hours of Service rules in place, which can be found on the FMCSA website. Here’s a summary of the rules that still apply to commercial motor vehicle operators:
11 Hour Driving Limit
A driver cannot drive for more than 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
14 Hour Work Limit
A driver cannot operate a vehicle after being on duty for 14 hours, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14 hour period.
A driver can only drive if 8 hours or less have passed since the end of their last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes.
Sleeper Berth Provision
Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
What to Expect with HOS Rule Changes
With the likelihood that the FMCSA will not publish their report before September 30th, the HOS regulations will revert back to the ones implemented on July 1st, 2013, regardless of the study’s findings. From there, depending on the reaction of the industry to the effects of the changes, Congress will either step in and suspend the rules again for further research or allow the changes to permanently take effect.
In either situation, it’s important to know the current regulations and follow them as closely as possible to ensure safety on the road. Failing to comply with government mandates can lead to large fines and even have drivers taken off the road. If the HOS rules are reverted back to the ones implemented on July 1st, 2013, expect to see them strictly enforced.