New HOS regulatory guidance for US truck drivers goes into effect today

The new guidance issued by the US Department of Transportation for truck drivers, essential in keeping the US economy moving during the coronavirus pandemic, goes into effect today, September 29.

The revised hours of service (HOS) regulations will “provide greater flexibility for drivers without adversely affecting safety,” according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the lead federal government agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles. And, the Department of Transportation estimates that the change will provide $274 million in savings for the US economy and American consumers.

The new HOS regulations amend the HOS Final Rule published February 2012, with four major changes being made:

Short-haul Exception
The change in the short-haul exception (for drivers transporting goods short distances) expands the distance limit from 100 to 150 air-miles and the maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours. These drivers are exempt from requirements for driver logs and Electronic Logging Devices, and from the 30-minute break requirement.

Adverse Driving Conditions Exception
During adverse conditions the driving window is expanded by up to two hours. The expectation is that this change will increase safety by allowing drivers to proceed more slowly or even take a break if they need to without going beyond their driving window.

Sleeper Berth Provision
A driver is allowed to meet the 10-hour minimum off-duty requirement by spending at least seven hours of that period in the sleeper berth and spending a minimum off-duty period of at least two hours inside or outside the berth, as long as the two periods total at least 10 hours and neither period counts against the 14-hour driving window. Previously, a driver had to take one 10-hour rest period every day, spending at least eight hours in the berth.

30-Minute Break Requirement
The maximum consecutive driving hours (eight) allowed does not change, but there is more flexibility around mandatory rest breaks. A 30-minute break after eight hours of driving time (not on-duty time) is required; an on-duty/not driving period is allowed to qualify as the required break. Previously, a driver had to take the break within the eight hours of driving.

The change gives drivers the opportunity to get rest when they need to and manage fatigue better. Because they can count not driving but on duty time as break time Instead of having to be entirely off duty, they have more flexibility. They could take their break when they’re waiting for loading/unloading, for example.

The added flexibility obviously impacts drivers and could also make a difference for shippers and carriers. “For our customers, many of them food and CPG manufacturers, the additional flexibility for drivers could result in higher on time performance,” said Ken Heller, Chief Transportation Officer.

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