Yet another bill driven by changes wrought on trucking by the electronic logging device mandate has been unveiled on Capitol Hill.
The Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety, or HOURS, Act (H.R. 6178) would provide “narrow” relief to specific trucking niches and would enable the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to speed up its efforts to make the split sleeper berth exemption more flexible, according to the American Trucking Associations, which supports the bill.
As of this writing, the text of H.R. 6178 has not yet been posted on the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. The HOURS Act was introduced on June 21 by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR) and so far is co-sponsored by Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Bruce Westerman (R-AR).
In a statement, ATA characterized the bill as providing “common sense hours-of-service relief and flexibility for professional truck drivers while enhancing highway safety and supply chain efficiency.”
“Now that the trucking industry is coming into full compliance with the electronic logging mandate, the next step in improving truck safety and supply chain efficiency is to use the data these ELDs collect to make needed improvements to the underlying hours-of-service rules,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. He added that ATA sees this “important legislation providing flexibility for millions of drivers while enhancing truck safety.”
ATA contends that since the shift to mandatory use of electronic logging devices to track drivers’ hours of service began in December, issues have arose but not around ELD use, but about the flexibility of the underlying hours-of-service rules.
According to ATA, the HOURS Act would provide hours-of-service relief in these four areas:
- Exempting drivers hauling livestock or agricultural products from the hours-of-service rules within 150 air-miles of the source of their load-- regardless of state-designated planting or harvesting season
- Harmonizing the hours-of-service rules for short-haul truck drivers by providing one single set of rules-- exempting drivers from ELD requirements if they operate exclusively within 150 air-miles of their reporting location and complete their workday in 14 hours, ending the current two-tiered system
- Reducing the current supporting documents burden for drivers to only verify the start and end time of a driver’s daily on-duty period
- Accelerating the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s already-in-progress efforts to provide flexibility in how drivers who take off-duty periods in sleeper berths split their rest time
Return of the Split Sleeper Berth Option?
That fourth point holds the widest appeal as it aims to push forward FMCSA’s stated goal of addressing whether the split sleeper berth exemption should be adjusted. Back in June, 2017, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed a pilot program that would give a limited number of CDL holders temporary relief from the existing sleeper-berth regulation.
In a Federal Register notice requesting comments on the proposal, FMCSA noted that, “During listening sessions for the hours-of-service rulemaking, the agency heard from many drivers that they would like some regulatory flexibility to be able to sleep when they get tired or as a countermeasure to traffic congestion (i.e., an exemption from the requirement for consolidated sleeper berth time).”
During the pilot program, participating truckers who regularly use a sleeper berth to accumulate their required 10 hours of non-duty work status would have the option to split their sleeper berth time within parameters specified by FMCSA. The agency said that for study purposes, drivers would be allowed to split their sleep into no more than two sleeper berth segments.
"Current regulations allow drivers to use one 10-hour period, or splits of nine and one hours or eight and two hours,” said FMCSA. “Drivers operating under the exemption for this study would be allowed to use any combination of split sleeper periods, totaling 10 hours, with neither period being less than three hours , allowing for the driver to use splits of three and seven hours, four and six hours, or two five-hour periods. Following study enrollment, drivers would be able to use split or consolidated sleep schedules as they choose (within study parameters), but they must still meet the daily minimum rest requirements.”
At the time, the agency said that "driver metrics" would be collected for the duration of the study and that participants’ safety performance and fatigue levels would be analyzed.
Currently, the pilot proposal is “in limbo,” awaiting approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget, David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, told HDT. Speaking to the HOURS act, he said that TCA “welcomes any opportunity to hasten the addition of flexibility for drivers in the hours of service rule.”
How ELDs are Pushing HOS Reform
He said that the introduction of bills like this one “add further to the conversation between trucking and lawmakers and regulators on why greater flexibility [in the HOS rule] should be enacted. We as an industry have demonstrated there is a need to at least look at this aspect and have collected sound data on it. With ELDs, we can tell a true story, not one reflected by what might have been on paper logbooks.”
“Many complaints associated with ELDs are really issues with the hours-of-service rules themselves – issues that were papered over by inaccurate or falsified logbooks,” remarked Collin Stewart, president and CEO of Stewart Transport Inc. and chairman of ATA’s Small Carrier Advisory Committee, in a statemnt. “ELDs have made it more difficult for drivers to ‘fudge’ their logs, but have also shown where the weaknesses in the HOS rules are. The solution proposed by Congressmen Crawford, Westerman and Bishop is a reasonable one and we urge Congress to quickly move on it.”
As compelling as the HOURS Act or any other bill seeking to reform the hours-of-service rules may be, thanks to the hyper-partisan political environment, it is highly unlikely any such legislation will be passed by Congress before the midterm elections.
TCA’s Heller observed that the reality is “the appetite is not there now to pass single-bill legislation. You need to attach [proposals] to bigger bills, like omnibus funding measures, to make them law.”