The Hours of Service Regulations – Here to Stay

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FMCSA plans some revisions

By Richard Pummell, Vice President of Operations, Foley Carrier Services

Ever since the revised Hours of Service regulations went into effect in the summer of 2013, they have been the center of attention for most of the transportation industry. The rules, which govern the hours that drivers can operate, are complex and play a critical role in day-to-day business management. They are also extremely controversial. One of the rare issues that gets attention from outside of the industry, from Congress and political action groups, the Hours of Service regulations are not going away, but they may be changing once again:

The 34-Hour Restart

Much of the controversy surrounds the “34-hour restart” provision. The 34-hour restart rules, which came into effect in June 2013, meant that drivers had to take 34 or more consecutive hours off-duty before a new work week could begin. In addition, drivers had to include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. of off-duty time, causing them to drive more during the day and less at night.

That second provision—requiring drivers to take a break between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.—has been suspended. This was the result of a Congressional action, not an action that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) took voluntarily. Current plans have the rule being revisited later this year.

At the same time, FMCSA has been trying to find drivers to participate in a driver restart study, intended to measure and compare the fatigue levels and safety performance levels of:

  • Truck drivers who take at least two nighttime rest periods during their 34-hour restart break;
  • Truck drivers who take one nighttime rest period during their 34-hour restart break.

The Agency has struggled with this. It has been more difficult than planned for the FMCSA to find enough drivers to participate in this important study.

ATRI Conducts Own Study

Making matters more complicated, the most recent development is that the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has conducted its own study on the 34-hour restart regulations. This study was meant to determine whether the 34-hour restart regulations have been helping or hurting the safety of our roadways.

The controversial results of the study show that the 34-hour restart regulations are not helping the safety of our roadways. There has been an increased number of crashes as a result of the 34-hour restart rules, as well as an increased likelihood of crashes.

The news of the survey results have been received gleefully in some corners of the transportation market, increasing the likelihood of the rule suspension being extended or being made permanent.

Difficult Regulatory Climate

The Hours of Service regulations and changes to the mandates are extremely hard to predict because of how many moving parts there are involved in the decision-making process. With FMCSA and Congress acting independently, transportation companies and their accompanying markets are struggling to keep up. For example, the suspension of the 34-restart provision was problematic for a number of Electronic Logging Device (ELD) manufacturers. Many drivers complained that the software used by ELDs was not updated; meaning errors and warning messages were being incorrectly shown.

Regardless of what happens to the regulations—and, right now, the future is as clear as mud—it is critical that all covered transportation companies have a method of staying up to date with the regulations. Hours of service violations are among the most common reasons for drivers to be placed out of service. and the fines for being out of compliance are among the most aggressive.  We strongly recommend that all transportation companies put in place a plan for training and updating all drivers as well as a way to monitor compliance when drivers are out on the road.

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