FMCSA Implements New Trucking Hours of Service Regulation Changes

Truck driver stands in front of commercial truck with a tablet, checking off a list

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) revised four main provisions of the Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations for trucks. These changes are intended to provide greater flexibility for drivers while maintaining safe driving practices.

Motor carriers are now required to comply with the new HOS provisions beginning September 29,2020.

Changes to Trucking Hours of Service Regulations

The recent FMCSA changes did not affect all areas of the Hours of Service Regulations. The most significant changes involve Short-Haul Rules, Adverse Weather Conditions, the 30-Min. Break Rule, and the Sleeper Berth Provision.

These are discussed in detail below, along with Fried Goldberg’s commentary on the changes.

Hours of Service Regulations: Recent Changes

Short-haul Exception

The new changes expand the short-haul exception to 150 air-miles and allow a 14-hour work shift as opposed to the old 12-hours.

Adverse Weather Exception

Expands the driving window during adverse driving conditions by up to an additional 2 hours, when the adverse conditions could not have been known by the driver immediately prior to beginning their duty.

30-Minute Break Requirement

Requires a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time). It also allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

Sleeper Berth Provision

Modifies the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement. This can be done by spending at least 7 hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours. Neither qualified period counts against the 14-hour driving window when used together as specified.

Short-Haul Rules

Changes to the Rule: This change makes the rule applicable to more drivers (150-mile radius instead of 100-mile radius), and makes it so that those drivers can work 14 hours max time instead of the previous 12 hours.

Fried Goldberg’s Commentary:  Ultimately, this change will allow truck drivers to be on the road for longer periods of time than they are currently allowed. That said, we believe that any rules that extend driving windows more than they already are should also require companies to offset the increased dangers of fatigue and distraction.

This can be done for instance with modern safety technology like automatic emergency braking and technology that minimizes unintended lane departures. The failure to require such offsetting measures is a missed safety opportunity.

Adverse Weather Conditions

Changes to the Rule: The second change increases driving time in adverse weather conditions by 2 hours when they could not reasonably have been known to the driver immediately before beginning their duty day.

Fried Goldberg’s Commentary: While we understand the stated reasons for this rule, it creates significantly increased safety concerns. First, driving in bad weather conditions is particularly dangerous and stressful. We have worked on a disproportionate number of cases where bad weather was a contributing factor.

Now commercial drivers will be driving in those dangerous and stressful conditions even longer and when they are already worn out from a long day of driving. We predict an increase in bad weather driving crashes during this new 2-hour window. We hope we are wrong about it, but everything in our experience points to this being a bad idea.

30-Minute Break Requirement

Changes to the Rule: These changes now require a break of at least 30 consecutive minutes after 8 cumulative hours of driving time (instead of on-duty time). It also allows an on-duty/not driving period to qualify as the required break.

Fried Goldberg’s Commentary: While we don’t have too much commentary on this particular change, we foresee that enforcement or assessment of the breaks may be difficult. Drivers and carriers may need to update their logging processes and mechanisms to indicate whether a break was on duty or not.

Sleeper Berth Provision

Changes to the Rule: The changes modify the sleeper berth exception to allow a driver to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement. This is now possible by spending at least 7 hours of that period in the berth combined with a minimum off-duty period of at least 2 hours spent inside or outside the berth, provided the two periods total at least 10 hours.

When used together as specified, neither qualified period will count against the 14-hour driving window.

Fried Goldberg’s Commentary: Time will tell whether these changes will affect truck accident statistics. For issues involving sleep and physical rest, extensive follow-up and possibly even medical sleep research may be needed to determine how effective these changes will be in terms of driver alertness.

What Are Hours of Service Regulations?

“Hours of service” (HOS) refers to the maximum amount of time commercial drivers are allowed to be on duty, including driving time. The term specifies the number and length of rest periods to help ensure that drivers stay awake and alert.

One of the main causes of serious truck accidents is truck driver fatigue. When a truck driver operates their vehicle while tired or drowsy, the risk of an accident dramatically increases. Driver fatigue is often worsened by:

  • Working long hours
  • Lack of sleep
  • Inadequate rest and meal breaks

Thus, vehicle Hours of Service Regulations aim to ensure that commercial truck drivers stay fresh while operating their vehicles.

When Do the Hours of Service Regulations Apply?

In general, all carriers and drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) must comply with HOS regulations found in 49 CFR 395. Drivers who fail to comply with commercial vehicle hours of service regulations may be subject to legal consequences and punishments.

If you have been in an accident and suspect that an HOS violation was a factor, you may need legal assistance. A qualified truck accident attorney can help determine liability and initiate a legal claim. Contact Fried Goldberg at (877) 591-1801 to speak with a truck accident attorney in your area regarding your legal rights and next steps.

A Final Word on Trucking Safety: Collision Avoidance Technology

At Fried Goldberg, we are big believers in technology as an aide for safety. The collision avoidance technology that would prevent the majority of serious and fatal crashes already exists. However, the industry has been slow to implement it.

While the regulatory changes above may have positive elements, it could be far more efficient to require the trucking industry to adopt safety technologies. Regulators should push to make automatic emergency braking, lane departure, collision reaction, and other technologies mandatory for commercial trucks.

Remember: truckers who drive while drowsy or tired place other drivers at an enormous risk of serious harm and possible fatalities. Any additional measures that enforce the use of safety technology will be helpful.

If you need legal assistance or representation after a truck accident, get in touch with us today at (877) 591-1801 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

Our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience dealing with trucking regulations and can help you recover the maximum compensation you’re entitled to. We wrote the book on motor carrier claims, and many attorneys seek out advice and guidance from us when working on their own cases.

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