Source: freedigitalphotos.net

The latest revision to federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations takes effect on July 1st. The key changes are new limitations on the 34-hour restart provision and mandating rest breaks. For most operators the effect on productivity should be minimal – it all depends on individual operational characteristics. There will be some operators negatively affected but claims that everyone will experience a 10-15% productivity loss simply do not pencil-out when looked at objectively.

34-hour restart provision 

The most controversial change involves the usability of the 34-hour restart. Beginning July 1stdrivers will need to include two consecutive overnight rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. home terminal time, not the time zone you are traveling through. Use of the restart will be limited to once per week or more, accurately measured every 168 hours from the beginning of the previous restart. If a driver takes more than one off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours within a 7 day period they must indicate in the Remarks section of the daily record of duty status which off-duty period was used for a restart - §395.3 (d).

While drivers certainly don’t always have control over how their available hours are spent, time management becomes even more important if you want to minimize the total hours spent parked before having a qualified restart. It is still possible to take only 34 hours off-duty to restart the 60 or 70-hour clock. It is also still possible to max out at about 83 on-duty hours in an 8-day period. Since the advent of the 34-hour restart provision, it seems many have forgotten that the rules limiting on-duty hours to 60 or 70 total hours in 7 or 8 days respectively never disappeared. Drivers still have the option of using the “recap” method to account for daily hours used against their 60 or 70 total available hours.

Not everyone has to follow the new rules to use the restart provision. Oilfield operations and construction materials and equipment operations still maintain their exemptions that allow those operators to restart their hours with an off-duty period of 24 or more successive hours.

Mandatory half-hour break

When FMCSA held an HOS listening session at the Mid-America Truck Show in March of 2010, many drivers publicly told federal officials that their motor carriers pushed them to drive continuously without a break. FMCSA got that message loud and clear by adopting this new requirement.

The new rule simply states, “Driving is not permitted if more than 8 hours have passed since the end of the driver’s last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.”

Time management will again be important because if a driver takes a break too soon, it is entirely possible they will need to take a second break before hitting the maximum driving time of eleven hours. For example: If you begin your day driving for two hours and then spend an hour off-duty, you would need to take another break at the end of your tenth hour of driving in order to legally drive into the eleventh hour. There are also examples where a driver could actually not be able to drive their full 11 hours within the 14-hour rule if breaks are not properly managed.

While the new mandatory break rule requires a driver to be off-duty for at least a half hour, that is not possible for those hauling Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 explosives because of attendance requirements contained at 49 CFR 397.5. FMCSA recognized this conflict and will allow drivers of vehicles containing those items to use 30 minutes (or more) of attendance time to meet the rest break requirement. However, those drivers must record the rest break as on-duty time and flag that time with a notation indicating it was used to meet the requirement for a break.

Recap (pun intended)

Litigation was brought by the trucking industry and highway safety advocacy groups challenging many aspects of the new rules – including whether FMCSA should have reduced the daily driving time to 10 hours. It’s probably telling that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit which heard oral arguments early in the spring has not issued a decision yet. I suspect that the new rules are going to be the rules, and it would be wise to figure out how to make them work in your operation.

I mentioned time management a few times and obviously drivers do not always control their schedule. They can minimize the impact of each significant rule change. One of the biggest challenges I foresee may actually be of the paperwork variety. Miscalculate 168 hours between restarts; forget to flag an off-duty period used for a restart, or flagging a half-hour break when hauling explosives and you’ll probably get a “driving award” from your friendly inspector. 

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