The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Hours of Service regulations were updated last year, going into effect September 29, 2020. The changes were two years in the making and came only after years of fleets and drivers seeking more flexibility in how drivers manage their time on duty.
Did FMCSA get it right this time?
To find out, HDT Talks Trucking put that question to Jerad Childress of Childress Law PLLC and Truck Safe Consulting and to Chris Woody, safety manager for Nashville-based M&W Logistics. During the podcast, Childress detailed legal nuances of the changes while Woody shared his front-line perspective.
Kicking off the discussion, Chris Woody remarked to HDT Talks Trucking host Jim Park that if greater flexibility was the goal, “I think they did a pretty good job of listening and addressing things. From what we’re seeing, they're delivering as intended.”
Jered Childress agreed: “FMCSA was seeking to provide some additional flexibility. And I think they delivered on their changes to the short haul 30-minute rest, sleeper berth, and off duty time and with the adverse weather flexibility.”
Split sleeper provision
Childress also explained that the split sleeper provision is not as complicated as it may seem.
“It's a simple formula. It provides for sleeper berth flexibility by allowing a driver to split the required 10 hours off — as long as one of those off-duty periods is at least two hours long. And that can be in or out of the sleeper berth. The other period has to be at least seven hours and the driver must be in the sleeper berth continuously. And those segments must total 10 hours.
“And we're going to talk about the 30-minute break changes a little bit as well,” he continued. “It's possible that if a driver is crafty in how he uses these splits, that 30-minute break can also be satisfied in the two-hour [sleeper berth] segment.”
Turning to using split sleeper time without being penalized in driving time after the fact, Woody advised that, “As long as we take at least a two-hour break, we're able to do that. I think we're getting closer to that point where drivers can take some responsibility for their own safety and feel okay about pulling over and getting some rest when they need some rest and not when they're told to get some rest. And that was the big gripe, right there, that they were being forced into a small time constraint. Now with some flexibility to do that, it's working much better.”
As for the changes to the 30-minute break provision, Woody reported that has “really loosened everything up quite a bit for the driver and taken some pressure off of them. I don't think everybody always talks about the amount of stress that the hours-of-service rules causes drivers. They've constantly got three or four ‘clocks’ ticking down in their head. And that 30-minute break was a real nuisance."
The change allowed drivers to use other modes than off-duty for that break, as long as they weren't driving, such as on-duty/not driving. That meant stopping to fuel up, for instance, could count as a break.
"I’m a big proponent of a break from driving. It just took FMCSA awhile to come around to that, too. Drivers are just generally more rested anyway from not having to worry about going off duty for 30 minutes.”
Childress saluted the short-haul updates to the rule.
“In my opinion, that’s probably the best outcome of this HOS revision. It really creates a great situation for those motor carriers that rely on the short-haul exemption for their operations and use it on a day-to-day basis. What these updates do is harmonize the CDL short-haul rules with the non-CDL rules. That means CDL drivers can now drive out to 150 air miles and then use a 14-hour on duty window to complete their work in a day.”