DOT officially floats HOS changes that would alter 14-hour clock, 30-minute break

The U.S. DOT on Wednesday officially announced proposed changes to federal hours of service regulations for truck operators. Chiefly, the proposed changes, if made final, would allow drivers to pause their 14-hour clock for up to three hours in a shift and go off-duty in that time period.

Drivers would be required to take a 10-hour off-duty break at the conclusion of their 14 hours on-duty after using the proposed pause option. Also, the 11-hour drive-time limit per an on-duty shift will remain. Allowing drivers to pause the 14-hour clock would help them avoid peak traffic hours, weather events and help “mitigate the effect…of long detention times,” according to notes within the proposal, which was announced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Ray Martinez, administrator of FMCSA, says he expects the notice of proposed rulemaking to be published Monday, Aug. 19, in the Federal Register. Drivers and the public at large will have 45 days to file comments on the rule, and the agency will consider the comments in crafting a final HOS rule. A final rule will likely take months, if not a year or longer, to be finalized and published in the Federal Register. Once published, the final rule likely won’t take effect for another year or more.

Martinez encouraged industry stakeholders to comment on the proposal to help guide the agency in crafting its final rule. He also touted the proposal as one that provides flexibility while maintaining safety. “We put forward a proposal that retools current hours of service regulations so that drivers can have the flexibility they need to complete their work efficiently while promoting highest level of safety on America’s roadways,” he said Wednesday in a conference call with the press.

Though the proposal doesn’t offer a return to true splitting of on-duty and off-duty time, the agency did address the rigidity of the 14-hour rule via the proposed option to go off-duty for three hours, which closely resembles a recommended change put forward in a petition by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed last year.

However, the agency has proposed a slight revision of the allowed split-sleeper berth options, which would allow drivers to split their off-duty sleeper berth time into two periods of seven hours and three hours, similar to the current eight-hour, two-hour split allowed under current regulations. This change is in addition to the proposal to allow drivers to pause their 14-hour clock. A significant difference, too, is that the shorter break wouldn’t count against the driver’s next 14-hour on-duty period, unlike current regulations.

FMCSA has also proposed changes to the required 30-minute break. Though the agency intends to keep the 30-minute break required in current hours of service regulations, FMCSA has proposed slight changes to when drivers must take it. Instead of requiring the break in the first eight hours of on-duty time, the agency has proposed requiring the break within the first eight hours of drive time, offering drivers more flexibility in its use. Also, the break could be taken as on-duty, non-driving time, rather than off-duty time.

Lastly the agency has floated two other proposed changes: (1) Allowing drivers to extend their 14-hour on-duty period by up to two hours in the event of adverse conditions, such as weather or congestion, and (2) extending the allowed on-duty period for short-haul drivers from 12 hours to 14 hours, and extending the short-haul radius from 100 air miles to 150 air miles. Drivers under the short-haul exemption aren’t required to keep records of duty status.

These are the first significant changes to hours of service proposed since 2011. Those 2011-proposed regs took effect in 2013, though the bulk of those changes were later struck by Congress.

The agency began seeking feedback on potential hours of service changes last August and filed its proposal to the White House’s OMB in March, following calls for change as the electronic logging device mandate’s first enforcement deadline in late-2017 approached and came to pass. The changes followed extended rounds of discussion with individual truck owners and drivers, driver and carrier groups and other industry stakeholders. Including more informal meetings, those discussions were supplemented by a series of listening sessions conducted through 2018 at various industry events and in other venues around the country.