Recently, I blogged about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) proposed changes to the Hours-of-Service (HOS) standards that regulate the commercial trucking industry. The proposed HOS updates were introduced in an Aug. 14 notice issued by the FMCSA with the stated goal of “enhanc[ing] safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.” Two listening sessions regarding the proposal have since taken place on Aug. 23 and Sep.17, respectively.
Here are the five key changes that would be made under the proposal:
- Modified sleeper-berth requirements. Commercial truck drivers would only need to take a seven-hour consecutive break in the sleeper berth. They would still be required to go off-duty for a total of 10 hours, but the other three hours could be used at another time during the shift.
- Permitting extended shifts for drivers during adverse conditions. In adverse conditions, such as hazardous weather or heavy traffic, long-haul commercial truckers could extend their on-duty limit from 14 to 16 hours.
- Extending maximums for short-haul drivers. Short-haul drivers could extend their on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours.
- Allowing drivers to “pause” their shift. Truckers could take a single off-duty break between 30 minutes and three hours long that would not be counted as part of their 14-hour driving limit.
- Adding flexibility to the 30-minute break rule. Truckers could opt to use their mandated 30-minute breaks while on-duty but not driving (e.g., while waiting for a shipment to be processed).
During the first two-hour listening session on Aug. 23, multiple truckers called for even more flexibility than the proposed changes offer, with suggestions including allowing drivers to break up the 30-minute mandated break into two 15-minute segments or three 10-minute segments. Another recommendation brought forth by truckers is changing the sleeper birth requirement to a 6-4 or 5-5 hours split. Currently, truckers are required to split up their 10-hour off-duty period into eight consecutive hours of rest in the sleeper birth and two hours of non-driving time (in other words, an 8-2 hours split).
Critics of the proposed changes argue that it would worsen the already-troubling industry issue of trucker fatigue. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which is a professional society of scientists and doctors, commented that “there’s no guarantee a trucker can or will sleep… and a number of them would be driving at the end of a long period of being awake.” Driving fatigued increases the risk of being involved in an accident, and most victims of large truck crash fatalities are not the truckers themselves. In fact, over 80% of 2017’s 4,761 large truck crash fatalities were occupants of vehicles other than the involved truck.
During the second listening session on Sep. 17, truckers brought up worries of being coerced by their companies into driving for longer periods if the HOS changes are adopted. Bob Stanton, who represents truckers with obstructive sleep apnea, pointed out that “it’s not illegal for a company to fire [truckers] for not delivering a load on time if [they] could have delivered the load through a legal manipulation of hours of service regulations. Being told by an employer to take your split [sleeper berth time] now so that you can work an extra three hours is not technically a violation of the rule – you have to have a violation of hours of service to violate the coercion rule.”
It will be important for the FMCSA to carefully consider whether the changes will lead to an influx of fatigued truckers behind the wheel and ensure that trucking companies are unable to force tired drivers onto roads. In the meantime, the FMCSA is accepting public comment on the proposal until an extended deadline of Oct. 21.
Michael Leizerman is a truck accident attorney specializing in catastrophic multi-axle collisions. He understands all facets of truck accident litigation; including federal regulations, drug and alcohol testing and hours of service requirements. He has authored a treatise entitled Litigating Truck Accident Cases and often educates other attorneys on trucking laws and regulations. You can learn more about Leizerman & Associates by visiting their website, www.truckaccidents.com.