FMCSA’s New Rules Offer Improved Flexibility to Commercial Motor Vehicle Drivers

Corporate Law Practice Group

By Corporate Law Practice Group

truckingFor years, commercial drivers and transportation companies have urged the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to provide greater flexibility in the hours of service (HOS) regulations. This call grew even louder following the implementation of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. This summer, FMCSA finally announced revisions to the hours of service regulations. The new rules went into effect on September 29, 2020.

The FMCSA’s rule changes affect four areas: the short-haul exception; the adverse driving conditions exception; the 30-minute break requirement; and the sleeper berth provision. Additionally, although it is not a formal rule change, the FMCSA issued new guidance regarding personal conveyances. These updates will help provide flexibility to an industry that often grapples with rigid regulations that have failed to keep pace with reality.

Short Haul Exemption

The short-haul exemption applies to drivers who report at the same location at the start and end of each workday and operate in a limited area. These drivers can keep a time record in place of the more burdensome HOS log. FMCSA’s new rule increases the geographic restriction from 100 air-miles to 150 air-miles. This change will allow motor carriers utilizing this exemption to expand their range, and some drivers whose regular routes previously prevented them from taking advantage of the exemption now can do so. Further, the on-duty limit for short haul operations has increased from 12 hours to 14 hours.

Adverse Driving Conditions Exception

The adverse driving conditions exception will extend the driving limit and the on-duty limit by two hours if the driver faces adverse driving conditions. “Adverse driving conditions” now means snow, sleet, fog, or other adverse weather conditions or unusual road or traffic conditions that were not known, or could not reasonably be known, to the dispatcher or the driver. The previous rule only considered the knowledge of the dispatcher, and it only allowed drivers to extend their driving limit, but not their on-duty limit. Under the new rule, drivers now have improved options when confronting unexpected conditions.

30-Minute Break Requirement

The new break rule requires the driver to take a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after eight cumulative hours of driving time. The prior rule required a 30-minute break after eight hours of on-duty time, not just driving time. The rule also now allows on-duty/not driving time to qualify as the required break. These changes will allow drivers greater flexibility in choosing when to take their mandated break.

With detention times on the rise over the past decade, drivers have watched more and more precious hours slip away while waiting for loads at warehouses. While detention pay can alleviate the burden, many carriers may be reluctant to demand it from shippers, fearing that it will hurt their competitiveness. The new rule should provide at least partial relief for that problem. For drivers who experience particularly long detention times on a regular basis, the rule change may provide little satisfaction.

Sleeper Berth Provision

Drivers now can meet the 10-hour off-duty requirement by spending at least seven hours in the sleeper berth combined with three hours off-duty in or outside the berth. Previously, only 8/2 splits were permitted, and the 2-hour period counted against the 14-hour driving window. Under the new 7/3 split rule, the divided break does not count against the driving window.

The ability to use a 7/3 split also reduces the pressure on drivers to continue driving while they feel tired. It can also improve efficiency by helping drivers avoid congestion or other adverse conditions.

Personal Conveyance

The FMCSA’s new guidance allows for a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for personal conveyance, even while carrying a load. The movement from a shipper or a receiver to the nearest safe resting area may be identified as a personal conveyance, regardless of whether the driver has exhausted the HOS, so long as the CMV is being moved solely to enable the driver to obtain rest at a safe location. The FMCSA recommends that the driver annotate on the log if the driver cannot park at the nearest location and must driver to another location.

For further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to one of our transportation attorneys.

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