Federal Trucking Regulator to Debut Weakened Hours of Service Rules Next Month

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Weakened Hours of Service rules are closer to becoming a reality, after the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FDA) indicated it could publish a final draft of the new regulations as early as June.

As a Top Truck Accident Lawyer, Ryan Zehl has successfully represented clients injured or tragically killed as a result of negligent, fatigued, and reckless commercial drivers.

How Hours of Service Rules Might Change

The Hours of Service rules are intended to reduce the risk of commercial truck and bus crashes related to driver fatigue, a factor in roughly 40% of all trucking-related accidents.

The regulations not only limit the number of daily and weekly hours  commercial drivers can work or operate a vehicle, they also specify the minimum amount of time they must rest between driving shifts.

President Trump’s pick to head the FMCSA, Ray Martinez, apparently agrees with the trucking industry’s contention that the Hours of Service rules are a problem and promised he would move “expeditiously” on reform.

The agency officially began the new rulemaking process last August, partly in response to a petition from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. At the time, the FMCSA indicated it was looking to alter the Hours of Service regulations in four key ways:

  • Expand the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty.
  • Extend the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to 2 hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions.
  • Revise the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8-hours of continuous driving.
  • Reinstate the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks equipped with a sleeper-berth.

What Happens Next?

In March, Martinez told attendees at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) annual convention that the FMSCA had received over 5,200 public comments on the proposal. He also made it clear that the Trump administration was looking out for the industry’s interest.

“There is a different attitude now,” he said. “There are some people who believe that the more laws you pass and the more regulations you pass, that that equals greater safety. I disagree. . . I can commit to you today that our agency is here to listen to you, learn from you and work with you.”

The FMSCA is waiting for the White House Office of Management and Budget to complete its review of the new Hours of Service rules. Once the review concludes, the agency tentatively plans to publish the final proposal on June 7th.  At that point, the public will have an additional 49 days to comment before the revised Hours of Service regulations actually take effect.

FMSCA Nixed Sleep Apnea Screening Rule for Commercial Drivers

This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has targeted regulations intended to keep fatigued commercial drivers off the road. Just months after President Trump took office, in fact,  federal regulators  abandoned a proposal to require Obstructive Sleep Apnea screening for all commercial drivers and train operators.

Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a driver to fall asleep at the wheel, but it’s often undiagnosed. According to some research, commercial drivers may suffer from higher rates of sleep apnea compared to the general population.

The National Transportation Safety Board actually recommended a sleep apnea screening rule years ago, and recently urged the Trump administration to reconsider its decision.

“We’ve investigated a number of accidents involving fatigued drivers, whether it’s a motor vehicle, a large truck, or in the rail industry,” Board member Jennifer Homendy told a congressional committee earlier this month. “We’ve issued a number of recommendations on the screening, diagnosis and treatment for sleep disorders like sleep apnea. We are pushing that FMCSA and FRA adequately address this and issue a rulemaking to require screening, diagnosis and treatment.”

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