Fuel Smarts

FHWA Nixes Hours-Of-Service Exemption

August 16, 1999

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The Federal Highway Administration says it will deny an emergency service provider's request to be exempted from federal hours-of-service rules.

Hulcher Services Inc. repairs track, moves overturned freight cars, and provides other emergency assistance in restoring rail service following train accidents. Many of the company's heavy equipment and other workers have commercial drivers licenses because they must occasionally drive trucks hauling equipment to and from accident sites. Since equipment is maintained and staged throughout the country, the average movement of equipment on commercial vehicles is less than 200 miles.
Although many of their regular duties aren't associated with commercial vehicle operation, Hulcher employees that hold CDLs maintain logbooks and record all of their regular duties as "on duty, not driving." The company says this significantly reduces available hours of service when those employees need to respond to an emergency. It asked that they be exempted from maximum hours-of-service rules or at least be given a 24-hour restart for the 70-hour work rule.
FHWA says it is inclined to deny the request but, under new rules for granting exemptions, must first publish the request and reasons for denial. The agency said one problem is that Hulcher failed to show how the current level of safety would be improved or at least maintained if the exemption was granted -- a requirement for all exemptions. Moreover, FHWA said, the company did not cite any specific disaster or emergencies that it was unable to respond to because of hours-of-service regulations.
The agency also noted that the hours-of-service regulations already exempt drivers who are responding to emergency situations if the emergency is declared by qualified federal, state or local authorities. Hulcher, it said, did not explain why that exemption is not sufficient for its operation. The notice was posted in the July 30 Federal Register, which can be accessed on the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html. Comments are due in writing by August 30.

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