The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is asking for public comment on a pilot program to study the one part of the hours-of-service proposal that didn’t make it into the final rule: allowing drivers to pause their on-duty driving period with one off-duty period up to three hours.
“Truckers are American heroes. They keep our supply chain moving; they carry essential goods we need to maintain our daily lives,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. “The department is seeking public comments on providing additional flexibility for truckers as they work to serve our country during this public health crisis."
The pilot program would allow drivers one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, which would pause a truck driver's 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift. This would allow, for instance, drivers to take up to a three-hour break to wait out rush hour, without it affecting their maximum on-duty time.
This rule change was initially proposed in the FMCSA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in August 2019. It did not make it into the final rule, announced in May and going into effect Sept. 29.
When the final rule was published, asked why this provision was omitted from the final rule, Acting Administrator Jim Mullen explained that, “the split sleeper berth provides essentially the equivalent, if not more flexibility, in that regard.” So if a driver wanted to take up to a three-hour break to wait out rush hour, for instance, he or she could take that as split sleeper berth time.
In the final rule, the agency cited concerns raised by commenters that drivers might be “pressured by carriers, shippers, or receivers to use the break to cover detention time, which would not necessarily provide the driver an optimal environment for restorative rest,” noted the trucking attorneys at Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary.
Participation in this pilot program would be limited to a certain number of commercial driver’s license holders who meet the criteria specified for participating. This pilot program, scheduled to operate for three years or less, “would gather statistically reliable evidence to analyze the safety and feasibility of such a modification to the hours-of-service rules,” according to the announcement from FMSA.
“FMCSA wants to hear directly from drivers about the possibility and safety of an hours-of-service pause pilot program,” Mullen said in the announcement of the pilot program. “The agency remains committed to exploring ways to improve safety on our roadways, while increasing flexibility for truckers.”
To comment, once the notice is published in the Federal Register, go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for Docket No. FMCSA-2020-0098. Comments must be received within 60 days after publication of the notice. The implementation date of the pilot program would be announced in subsequent Federal Register notices.