FMCSA restricts split rest, loosens rules for many short-haul drivers

The new hours-of-service regulations will require all drivers using sleeper berths to satisfy their mandatory rest requirements by taking at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and another 2 consecutive hours of sleeper berth and/or off-duty during the shift.

The rules announced Aug. 19 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also grant a second work day of up to 16 hours to short-haul drivers operating within 150 miles of their base and returning home each night provided they are operating equipment smaller than that requiring a commercial driver’s license. In addition, such operations may use payroll time sheets rather than logbooks for compliance purposes.

The sleeper berth and short-haul provisions were the only two significant changes under the new regulations, which take effect Oct. 1, 2005. FMCSA announced a transition period through the end of Dec. 31, 2005.

The new rules on sleeper use make no distinction between solo and team drivers. The rules currently in place allow drivers to split a minimum of 10 hours’ rest in sleeper berth in any combination of two periods, provided that the shortest period is at least 2 hours in duration. Drivers not using sleeper berths for mandatory rest still must take 10 consecutive hours of off-duty.

The short-haul rules that took effect in January 2004 allowed one workday of up to 16 hours for short-haul drivers, which were defined as those operating within 100 miles and returning home each night, but those rules made no distinction based the type of equipment. For short-haul drivers requiring a CDL, the January 2004 rules remain in effect.

FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg said that a loosening of the restrictions were justified because of the large cost and because those operators proved not to be a problem. She said that although short-haul drivers operating smaller equipment represented about half of all commercial truck registrations, they represented only 10 percent of truck crashes and only 7 percent of fatal truck crashes.

Sandberg said that after the reconsideration ordered by a federal appeals court in July 2004, other controversial provisions of the current rules, such as 11 hours of driving time and the 34-hour restart of cumulative rest, were justified by the need to protect both public safety and the vitality of the U.S. economy.

Electronic onboard recorders — another issue raised by the appeals court — were not addressed in the final hours-of-service rules, but Sandberg announced that FMCSA would issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the issue early next year.

The initial reaction of the American Trucking Associations was measured. ATA President Bill Graves said FMCSA’s action confirmed the industry’s research that the current hours rules have been effective in improving highway safety, providing for drivers’ health and ensuring efficient transport of goods. “However, we need to closely examine the impact of the new ‘sleeper berth’ rule on trucking companies and their drivers, particularly team drivers that are so critical to our just-in-time economy,” he said. “In the meantime, we feel confident that the trucking industry will continue its positive progress in safety and productivity under these rules.”

Public Citizen, the lead group challenging the hours-of-service regulations now in effect, said the new rule is disappointing, saying it is virtually unchanged from the rule set aside by the appeals court. The group was particularly critical of the decision to keep the increased driving time and the 34-hour restart, which allows for more on-duty time in a week.

“While we support the portion of the rule that no longer allows drivers to split the time they spend in sleeper berths, the overall increased driving and working time is not supported by the vast body of scientific literature that exists about fatigue and driver safety,” Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook said. “Nor does this proposal help drivers get on a 24-hour circadian schedule. We sincerely hope that in the coming weeks the agency will reconsider this issue and redraft the rule.”

For a copy of the final rules and other information, click here.