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‘Flexible’ Hours of Service Final Rule submitted to White House for approval

The FMCSA sent the HOS Final Rule to the White House's Office of Management and Budget for approval.

Months after debuting proposed changes to truck driver Hours of Service regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says that they have submitted a Final Rule to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval.

On Tuesday morning at the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Conference in Orlando, Florida, FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen announced that the agency was moving forward with proposed changes to Hours of Service. The Final Rule was filed with the OMB on Monday, March 2.

Mullen said, “After carefully reviewing these comments, I am pleased to announce today that FMCSA is moving forward with a final rule on hours-of-service and that the Agency has sent a final rule to the OMB for review.  While I can’t go into the specifics of this final rule, please know that the goal of this process from the beginning has been to improve safety for all motorists and to increase flexibility for commercial drivers.”

The Hours of Service Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) was published on August 14, 2019, and lawmakers promised changes to regulations that would provide truck drivers with more flexibility.

The main changes to HOS advanced in the August 2019 NPRM are listed below.

*The Agency proposes to increase safety and flexibility for the 30 minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on duty, not driving status, rather than off duty.

* The Agency proposes to modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14?hour driving window.

The Agency proposes to allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.

* The Agency proposes to modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

* The Agency proposes a change to the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on?duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

There may be differences in the HOS Final Rule submitted to the OMB. The OMB has 90 days to either approve or reject the Final Rule. Once approved, the Final Rule can then be published in the Federal Register but it would likely be months or even years before the changes to HOS would go into effect.

The FMCSA has been at work on new Hours of Service regulations since August of 2018 when it published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule Making and asked for public comment on several aspects of Hours of Service reform. The changes were spearheaded by then-acting FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez, who stepped down at the end of October 2019. The FMCSA received more than 5,200 comments — many of them coming from truck drivers asking for relief from the strict regulations that they say could force them to drive while fatigued.

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