Musing on changes to hours of service

By Joseph Evangelist

Executive Vice President, Transervice
As originally appeared in FleetOwner Magazine’s IdeaXchange

Earlier this month the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued the final rule updating hours of service (HOS). The rules are said to offer the industry more flexibility, but the impact will vary by the fleet, based on the operating characteristics of a specific carrier’s service profile.

There were four key revisions to the ruling: the short-haul exemption, the 30-minute break rule, the sleeper berth rule, and adverse driving conditions exception.

For short-haul carriers, the air-mile radius was extended to 150 miles from 100, and the maximum on-duty time increased to 14 hours from 12. A fleet qualifying for this exemption gains the ability to expand service to more customers within its operating radius while at the same time providing drivers with the opportunity for additional work. Carriers who qualify for the exemption will not be required to use electronic logging devices or to record HOS. This presents a cost-savings opportunity.

Regional haul carriers are impacted by both the 30-minute break rule as well as the adverse driving conditions exception. These changes offer carriers additional tools to ensure that they are not only utilizing resources effectively but also allow for vehicles to return to their domiciles when delayed by weather as opposed to forcing a layover.

Long-haul carriers will benefit from not only the regional changes but from the new sleeper berth exemption. This exemption adds an additional layer of flexibility pertaining to layovers to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split — with neither period counting against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.

On the surface, these changes seem good. The real issue is that it is one thing to model these changes, but we will need to compile real-world data over time to see if the industry realizes any real benefits.

The new rules and the accompanying flexibility are welcome changes, but will there be any adverse effects from these changes?

Consider this example: The adverse weather exemption, which is phrased similar to the existing personal conveyance exemption, leaves use of this rule open to interpretation and potential abuse. If a driver elects to use the exemption, they can theoretically continue their driving time to a period of time that is potentially unsafe when it comes to fatigue.

In a similar fashion, expanding the air-mile radius HOS exemption allows potentially more (or new) carriers to virtually operate on the “honor system.” Considering that many of these fleets may operate last-mile services in urban areas, with little to no accountability regarding sensible operating hours, the potential for increased accidents or driver failure is also increased.

Potential exposures to driver fatigue and rule interpretation aside, the changes were developed directly with carrier insight and the best of intentions to support our industry. The flexibility in these rules is designed to assist carriers throughout the dynamic decision-making process, to assist drivers in making reasonable modifications to their time to ensure their safety (such as the ability to reach safe haven/parking areas), as well as achieve the maximum productivity that the supply chain demands.

And as a whole, all carriers will benefit directly from the new rules and gain a competitive advantage, regardless of carrier size, if applied to their maximum benefit.

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