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Friday, June 21, 2024

At First Glance Proposed Changes to New US Hours of Service Rules Not as Bad as Thought

34-hr reset stays but with changes; reduction of maximum daily driving time from 10 to 11 hrs still open for public comment

TORONTO – The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) today issued a regulatory proposal that would revise hours-of-service (HOS) requirements for commercial truck drivers. The publication of the proposed rule coincides with the timeframe established in a court settlement agreement that requires FMCSA to publish a final HOS rule by July 26, 2011.

“A fatigued driver has no place behind the wheel of a large commercial truck,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We are committed to an hours-of-service rule that will help create an environment where commercial truck drivers are rested, alert and focused on safety while on the job.”

While many carriers on both sides of the border expected the worst, the proposed rules leave some important questions unanswered but are perhaps not as bad as many thought they would be. Highlights of the New Hours of Service Proposals and the preliminary comments of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) are:

• The new HOS proposal would retain the “34-hour restart” provision allowing drivers to restart the clock on their weekly 60 or 70 hours by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. However, the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 a.m. Drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period. The “restart” or “rest and recovery” provisions had their genesis in Canada, where they were first developed and proposed by the Canadian Trucking Alliance in the early 1990s. Consequently, David Bradley, CTA’s CEO, said he was pleased to see that the reset provisions would be retained. “Clearly, the FMCSA wants to try and ensure that a driver gets two consecutive night-time sleeps before he or she can reset their clock. That may create some logistical complexities; we’ll have to take a closer look.” The standard reset provision in Canada is 36-hours.

• The proposal would require commercial truck drivers to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday, and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for at least a one hour break. “We have fixed working windows now,” says Bradley. “They are difficult to manage and can put added pressures on drivers to drive when they might otherwise rest to make sure they get their work done. Shippers and consignees are going to have to pay much more attention to this to avoid delays for loading/unloading.” The working window in Canada is 16 hours. To help offset the impact of fixed working window of 14 hours, the FMCSA also proposes to include the option of extending a driver’s daily shift to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate for issues such as loading and unloading at terminals or ports, and allowing drivers to count some time spent parked in their trucks toward off-duty hours. “Clearly, FMCSA is sensitive to the fact that drivers can be delayed for reasons beyond their control and are attempting to address it.”

• The proposal leaves open for comment whether drivers should be limited to 10 or 11 hours of daily driving time, although FMCSA currently favours a 10-hour limit. Says Bradley, “the science of fatigue suggests that it is NOT the amount of time a person works or drivers that is the determinative factor for driver fatigue – it’s whether the driver is getting the appropriate opportunity for rest, and then uses those opportunities effectively.” In Canada, under the current federal regulation, truck drivers are limited to 13 hours of driving per day.

According to the FMCSA, commercial truck drivers who violate the proposed rule would face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense. Trucking companies that allow their drivers to violate the proposal’s driving limits would face penalties of up to $11,000 for each offense.

Bradley says he has detected no groundswell of desire by Canadian governments to change the Canadian federal hours of service rule to mirror those of the United States. “Things could change, but I just don’t sense that the provinces or Transport Canada want to open that can of worms again – at least not right now,” he said. “The current direction from a number of provinces and industrial sectors in Canada is for more flexibility, not less. A number of sectors are advocating for or in support of exemptions or other forms of greater flexibility. A number of provinces have yet to adopt the hours of service rule agreed to in 2007.”

Still, he says, “it will behoove us to take a good long look at the US proposals to determine what impact they will have in terms of compatibility with the Canadian rules and some of the new provisions – such as extending the fixed working window by two hours twice a week and allowing drivers to count some time spent parked in their trucks toward off-duty hours – are things that would be of interest to the industry in Canada.”