Driver Hours Subject To Change

The U.S. Department of Transportation has issued two proposed rulemakings that will substantially alter your delivery truck drivers’ hours and your company’s compliance with the driver hours of service regulations.

On December 29, 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published its notice of proposed rulemaking to revise the driver hours of service regulations. A final rule is expected sometime by the end of July 2011.

Daily Driving Limits and Breaks
The FMCSA is considering reducing the daily driving limit from 11 hours to 10 hours (the agency states that it is considering both possibilities but strongly prefers the 10-hour daily driving limit). But the proposal states a driver may only drive if it has been seven hours or less since a break of at least 30 minutes logged off-duty or in the sleeper berth. Thus, the 10-hour daily driving limit, if that is adopted, would have to be broken up by at least one rest break of at least 30 minutes. Also, the requirement for a break applies to all on-duty time, not just driving time. So a driver who logs on duty and works in the fill plant for three hours would then only be able to drive for a maximum of four hours before needing a break of at least 30 minutes.

Daily On-Duty and Driving Window
The proposal would further reduce the available daily period in which a driver may operate a commercial motor vehicle. Although the proposal would not change the 14-hour daily limit in which drivers may drive a CMV, the proposal contains a new term, the “driving window.” The driving window is a 14-hour period in which a driver must complete all on-duty work-related activities; but the effective on-duty period is 13 hours. This uses the 14-hour daily driving window but requires at least one hour of break time within that 14 hours, thus effectively limiting the available period in which a driver may drive or accomplish on-duty non-driving tasks to 13 hours.

Drivers would be able to extend the 14-hour daily driving window up to 16 hours two times a week to account for waiting time or other delays. But this does not change the 13-hour available on-duty period. If a driver extends the daily on-duty time to 16 hours, three hours of that time must be rest time. Thus, if a driver spends four hours waiting to unload and unloading a vehicle, the driver must complete the return trip within the 13-hour available on-duty period even if the total time since the driver first logged in does not exceed 16 hours.

Weekly Reset Provision
The FMCSA’s proposal retains the “34-hour restart” provision that allows drivers to restart the clock on their weekly 60 or 70 hours by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. But the restart period would have to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6:00 a.m. Moreover, drivers would be allowed to use this restart only once during a seven-day period, and would have to designate in their records of duty status when the 34-hour period begins.

In addition, on January 31, 2011, the FMCSA published a new proposal to mandate that all operators of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce must use Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) to track hours of service compliance. The requirement would become effective three years after the final rule is published. Currently, use of EOBRs is voluntary.

All short-haul drivers who record their hours of service (HOS) using the timecard provision of 49 CFR 395.1(e)(1) and (2) may continue to use timecards under the proposal. The FMCSA acknowledges that drivers working for companies that keep timecards under 49 CFR 395.1(e)(1) and (2) may occasionally operate beyond the parameters of those provisions (for example, by operating outside the specified 100- or 150-air-mile radii). Under this proposal, they would be allowed to continue using records of duty status for those days, as opposed to using EOBRs.

The proposed rule would also relieve interstate operators from retaining certain HOS supporting documents, such as delivery and toll receipts, which are currently used to verify the total number of hours drivers spend operating the vehicle. Companies that violate this EOBR requirement would face civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each offense. Noncompliance would also negatively impact a carrier’s safety fitness rating and DOT operating authority.

These two rulemakings indicate that DOT is serious in its efforts to further reduce truck accidents. Although heavy truck fatalities are at their lowest level in 50 years, DOT believes there are still too many truck-related deaths.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association


Richard P. Schweitzer Meet the Author
GAWDA’s Government Affairs & Human Resources Legal Consultant Richard P. Schweitzer, Esq., is president of Richard P. Schweitzer, PLLC in Washington, D.C. Members can reach him at 202-223-3040 and rpschweitzer@rpslegal.com.