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Federal Government Proposes Changes in Trucking Industry Rules to Improve “Flexibility”; Safety Groups Raise Concerns

The trucking industry is closely tied to the automotive industry.  The trucking industry transports vast quantities of raw materials for use by automotive companies in their manufacturing, and is also a significant consumer of automotive products.  This month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a long-anticipated proposal on “hours of service” rules for truck drivers. 

The hours of service rules govern how much time a commercial driver may operate the vehicle, and mandates certain periods of rest.  The rules divide drivers into two categories: property-carrying and passenger-carrying.  Property-carrying drivers must comply with (among other requirements):

  • An 11-hour driving limit, with 10 consecutive hours off-duty.
  • The 11 hour driving limit must occur within 14 hours of coming on duty.
  • A 30 minute break after 8 hours of driving (this does not apply to certain short-haul drivers)
  • May not drive after either 60 hours on duty in 7 consecutive days, or 70 hours on duty in 8 consecutive days.  A driver must take off 34 consecutive hours before restarting.
  • Under adverse conditions, the maximum driving time is extended by 2 hours.
  • Short-haul drivers are exempt from certain requirements if they operate within a 100 air-mail radius of their “normal work reporting location”, and if the driver returns to the work reporting location and is released within 12 hours.

In August, the FMCSA proposed revisions to each of these rules.  The goal of the new rules, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is “to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.”  The proposed changes are:

  • Allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: 1) at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth; and 2) at least two consecutive hours off duty or in the sleeper berth.
  • One off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window.
  • Triggering the break requirement by eight hours of driving time without an interruption of at least 30 minutes.  The break would also be satisfied by a driver using “on duty, not driving status”, rather than “off duty”.
  • Under adverse conditions, the proposed rule would extend by two hours the maximum window for driving.
  • Changing the short-haul exception to lengthen the drivers’ maximum on duty period from 12 to 14 hours, and to extend the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

These changes come after an effort by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, submitted a petition to FMCSA in February 2018 to revise the rules.  OOIDA applauded the proposed rules, releasing a statement on August 14, 2019: “[Truckers] are the most knowledgeable, highway safety advocates and the agency’s proposal, overall, recognizes that fact.” 

However, at least one group has spoken out against the proposed rule changes.  Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety released a statement on August 14, 2019 stating it is “staunchly opposed to the proposed changes in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) published this morning by the [FMCSA] which would significantly weaken hours-of-service (HOS) rules.”  The group raised concerns with each of the proposed changes, questioning the potential safety impact of the changes. 

The public comment period is now open, and it remains to be seen if the final rules will be approved as proposed.

© 2019 Foley & Lardner LLP

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About this Author

Lauren M. Loew business law attorney Foley and Larner Law Firm
Partner

Lauren M. Loew is a partner and litigation lawyer with Foley & Lardner LLP and a member of the Business Litigation & Dispute Resolution Practice and Automotive Industry Team. Ms. Loew represents clients on matters including products liability defense, commercial contract disputes, supply chain management, and post-acquisition disputes. Ms. Loew represents clients in state and federal courts and arbitrations around the country. She is co-editor of Dashboard Insights, the Automotive Industry Team blog.

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