FMCSA Publishes Revised Final Hours-Of-Service Rule

by

On December 22, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its revised Final Hours-Of-Service rule governing truck drivers, replacing the HOS rule it had promulgated in the middle of the past decade as a condition of avoiding litigation from a coalition of groups claiming to represent public safety and driver health. A few of the new rule’s provisions have a compliance date of February 27, 2012, but most of them will not be enforced until July 1, 2013.

Although the new “Final” rule does not shrink the current maximum daily driving time from 11 hours to 10 hours, as FMCSA had hinted it would do, it effectively reduces a driver’s maximum “on-duty” work-week time from 82 hours to 70 hours and mandates a 30-minute break—during which the driver is free of all duties with respect to the truck—within any 8-hour driving period. It also stipulates that the 34-hour off-duty “restart” period drivers are required to take between work weeks include two time-blocks between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM, based on FMCSA’s conclusion that conforming to the body’s natural circadian rhythm reduces fatigue and related stress. The Agency presents its understanding of the new rule, and its defense of its provisions, by means of a Q&A at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/hos-final/qanda.aspx

The terms of the new rule will fall most heavily on over-the-road truckers, whose routes are over long distances, with the “restart” rule drawing especially strong criticism from the American Trucking Associations and other trucking interests, who also point out that the rule’s systemic discouragement from driving at night will add to congestion at morning rush hours, when commuters and “restarting” truckers will both be hitting the road. ATA President Bill Graves sums up the industry’s longstanding objection to the process, stating that FMCSA has chosen “to eschew a stream of positive safety data and cave in to a vocal anti-truck minority and issue a rule that will have no positive impact on safety.” Mr. Graves also hints that the 2013 effective date for most of the rule’s provisions gives ATA “time to consider legal options.”

What will be the effect on forest product hauling? Although the rule does not technically affect the HOS exemption on logbooks for intrastate hauling within a 100-air-mile radius, even log and chip truckers who think they can operate consistently within that restriction may find enforcement authorities interpreting the term “intrastate” with less latitude, as states develop enforcement codes covering both federal and state regulations. Our contacts indicate that having an interstate registration, having apportioned tags, or maintaining an administrative office outside of one’s 100-mile operating radius could be enough to draw the attention of enforcement officials, depending on state agency attitudes. Forest products haulers who operate within the weather- and market-related constraints typical for forest product transport may find it difficult to adapt flexibly to conditions, in terms that can mean the difference between missing and delivering a load during a high-priority period.