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Trump Poised to Approve Weakened Hours of Service Rules

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A proposal to greatly weaken the federal Hours of Service regulations that help prevent fatigue-related truck and 18-wheeler crashes has been sent to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for final approval.

While it’s not clear how far the proposal actually goes, nothing suggests the Trump administration won’t bow to industry demands for more “flexibility” when it comes to truckers’ mandated rest breaks and time spent behind the wheel.

“We think it is a very big deal,” Jim Mullen, acting director of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) told shortly after announcing the proposal’s progress at a trucking industry conference earlier this week. “It’s essentially the last stage in the final rulemaking process.”

How the Hours of Service Rules Could Change

The Hours of Service rules were first enacted in the 1930s and help prevent fatigued-related crashes by limiting the number of hours an interstate commercial driver – including those who operate 18-wheelers and other heavy trucks – can remain behind the wheel without taking a break.

The trucking industry has long sought to make the Hours of Service rules more “flexible” and the Trump administration has been eager to please one of the President’s most faithful allies.  Thus, few were surprised last August when the FMSCA proposed weakening the regulations in five key areas:

  • Modify the 30-minute break rule by tying the requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes. Truckers would also be allowed to satisfy the break requirement while on duty, as long as they are not driving.
  • Weaken the sleeper berth exception by allowing drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods. They would be permitted to take one break of at least seven hours in the sleeper berth, while a second lasting at least two consecutive hours could be taken either off duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the 14‑hour driving window.
  • Allowing one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modifying the adverse driving conditions exception by extending the maximum driving window by two hours.
  • Expanding the short-haul driving window from 12 hours to 14 hours, while the radius of short-haul operations would increase from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Hours of Service “Flexibility” Will Likely Lead to More Deadly Truck Accidents

Fatal truck and 18-wheeler accidents have already hit a 10-year high. Now safety advocates fear that allowing truckers and other commercial drivers flexibility on Hours of Service will only increase the dangers on the nation’s roads and highways, leading to even more deadly crashes.

A recent study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety suggested extending the short-haul driving window would increase the likelihood of an accident by 338%.  Even the FMCSA’s own research confirmed that the risk of an accident increases with each hour of driving time for at least the 7th through 11th hours.

According to the Coalition for Trucking Safety, the current 30-minute break rule is supported by more than 100 studies that examined the effects of fatigue on driver performance. There is also no evidence to suggest adding two hours to the adverse conditions driving window would lead to a reduction in truck accidents or truck occupant deaths.

Finally, the Coalition has voiced concern that the FMCSA’s proposed sleeper berth exception will make it difficult to ensure truckers are using their mandated breaks for sleep or that their sleep is restorative.

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