Interstate truckers and other commercial drivers will have to wait a little longer for “flexibility” on Hours of Service rules, after the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced it was delaying publication of a weakened version of the regulations until “further notice.”
What are the Hours of Service Rules?
The federal Hours of Service regulations help prevent fatigue-related truck and bus crashes by limiting the number of daily and weekly hours interstate commercial drivers can work or operate a vehicle. The rules also specify the minimum amount of time commercial drivers must rest between driving shifts.
The trucking industry has long sought to roll-back the Hours of Service rules, and the FMCSA has been more than happy to oblige since Donald J. Trump took office in January 2017. Last August, in fact, the regulator announced it would propose altering the regulations in four key areas:
- 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.
FMCSA Hours of Service Revisions Remain Under Review
While the FMCSA indicated that it would publish the final Hours of Service revisions on June 7th, the date passed with no action. Late last week, the regulator confirmed that the proposal was still being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, resulting in an indefinite delay.
“The timelines in the department’s regulatory updates serve as goals for the agency and are reflective of FMCSA’s plan to move quickly during this rulemaking process,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to Safety & Health. “The agency is hopeful the rule will be published soon.”
Once they are finally published, the new regulations won’t take effect until a final public comment period has expired. There’s also a chance that court challenges could further delay enactment.
Many Expect FMCSA to Eliminate 30-Minute Break Rule
So far, it’s not clear exactly what the revised Hours of Service regulations might look like.
In December, the FMCSA moved to preempt a California rule requiring commercial drivers to take a meal break after five hours behind the wheel, as well as a 15-minute rest break after four hours. That move caused many observers to speculate that the Trump administration was preparing to completely eliminate the federal 30-minute break rule.
Just last Tuesday, however, the Democratic-controlled House Appropriations Committee advanced the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill, which includes a provision prohibiting the FMCSA from eliminating the 30-minute break regulation during the 2020 fiscal year.
The entire House, not to mention the Republican-controlled Senate, must still pass THUD, and its unclear if the bill will make it through Congress with the 30-minute break provision intact. It certainly doesn’t help that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and other powerful trucking-industry interests have already mobilized to lobby against its inclusion in the final legislation.
Even if the provision survives long enough for congressional passage, the reprieve might only be temporary, as the legislation expires on September 30, 2020. To ensure the 30-minute break rule remains in effect, lawmakers would have to renew the provision in every annual THUD appropriations bill.
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