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What proposed HOS changes in U.S. mean to Canadian drivers

Proposed changes to the U.S. hours of service rules have been touted as more flexible for drivers and carriers -- but what about the benefits and the flexibility for cross-border drivers and carriers? Will the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's proposed HOS provide the same benefits for cross-border drivers, or just make the hours-related differences between Canada and the United States even more confusing? Here’s what I came up with as to how FMCSA’s proposed changes might affect cross-border carriers

Split-duty provisions

A change to the 14-hour window in a split-duty provision would allow drivers one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a 14-hour driving window, as long as the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off duty at the end of the work shift.

Canada’s rules do not have any type of “pause” allowance in the workshift window, so drivers would need to be aware of where they’re at in their workshifts when re-entering Canada. It helps that Canada’s rules already have a 16-hour workshift window, however.

The 30-minute break

The 30-minute break rule in the U.S. would still stand, but would be tweaked a bit under the proposed changes. A 30-minute break would be required after eight hours of driving time (instead of eight hours of accumulated on-duty time. The break could be satisfied by an on-duty break from driving, rather than requiring the driver to be strictly off duty during the break.

For drivers operating into the U.S. and subject to the 30-minute break, this change would make it easier to meet the break requirement. But drivers would need to remember that, when back in Canada, Canada’s rules are clear — on-duty time is on duty and not considered a break.

The split-sleeper exception

The FMCSA is looking to modify the split-sleeper exception by allowing drivers to split the required 10 hours off duty into two periods of at least seven consecutive hours for one sleeper berth period, and at least two consecutive hours for the subsequent period. The subsequent two-hour period may be off-duty and/or off-duty in the sleeper berth. The total of the two periods would remain at 10 hours.

The FMCSA doesn’t want either period used to meet this requirement to be counted toward the 14-hour window. Currently, the period of two hours or more counts toward the driver’s 14-hour window.

Canada and the U.S. have always differed on the split sleeper rules. Canada requires both periods to be in the sleeper berth, while the U.S. regulations allow the longer period in the sleeper with the other period off-duty-not-driving or in the sleeper. So this wouldn’t be a huge change for cross-border drivers.

The short-haul exception

Proposed changes to the short-haul exception in the U.S. would lengthen the maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours, and extend the related distance in which drivers can operate from 100 to 150 air miles (about 160-240 km).

Such a change shouldn’t have a huge impact on cross-border drivers who are unlikely to take advantage of the extra 50 miles (80 km) that would be allowed. It would interfere with the 160-km (100-mile) log exemption when driving in Canada.

Adverse driving conditions

In adverse driving conditions, drivers in the U.S. can currently operate a commercial motor vehicle for up to two hours beyond the maximum time allowed. However, this does not currently extend the maximum “driving window”. So the FMCSA is looking to extend the 14-hour driving window by up to two hours, for a maximum of 16 hours. A maximum of 13 hours of driving in a 16-hour window would be possible.

This proposed change would bring U.S. regulations more in line with Canada when it comes to adverse driving conditions. On this side of the border, drivers can reduce their off-duty time by an additional two hours per day and drive after the 13th hour of driving and 14th hour on duty, but they can’t extend the 16-hour work shift.

What happens next?

The FMCSA received more than 2,700 comments on the proposed rule, and those need to be addressed. But a final rule could come as early as March 2020. And while the changes may be adopted soon, there’s always the possibility of lawsuits that could extend the rule’s adoption or implementation timeline.

It’s also important to remember that, if these changes are adopted, they would be optional. Cross-border drivers could choose to carry on as usual under existing hours of service rules

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