October 2020 The Roemer Report

HoS Rules Now in Effect, Will Driver Safety Follow?

As of midnight September 29, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Hours of Service (HoS) rules went into effect. The industry’s reaction has been mixed - certainly less than positive - and getting more vocal as the U.S. moves past the COVID-19 recession and closer to the presidential election.

Law is settled, the industry not so much

Industry groups including the Ohio Trucking Association (OTA) have been running information campaigns for many months to help members understand how to comply with HoS mandates. But as the new law incepts, the trucking industry remains skeptical of the heavy touch of the nanny state.

The Teamsters, unsurprisingly, have been quite vocal in their opposition. CDLife.com among other industry media reported in May the Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa’s opinion of the new law:

“In an effort to increase so-called ‘flexibility’ for trucking companies, the FMCSA is abandoning safety and allowing drivers to push themselves to the limit even further. Trucking is already one of the nation’s most dangerous jobs.”

They’re tired, and tired of it

Essentially the rules are meant to ensure drives take breaks and get adequate rest. Hoffa pointed to multiple National Transportation Safety Board reports that point to driver fatigue as a major cause of large truck crashes to make his point.

Short haulers: flexibility or exploitability?

OTA notes short-haul carriers will get benefits from the final rule change, which expands the exemptions for short-haul drivers by extending their allowed on-duty period from 12 hours to 14 hours.

Drivers under the short-haul exemption aren’t required to keep records of duty status, explains OTA, and do not need to take the mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of driving. The radius for short haul exemption status has also been increased from 100 to 150 air miles.

The Teamsters think this opens up short haulers for exploitation by trucking companies. For one, the Teamsters say extending the workday to 14 hours for CDL-qualified short haul drivers will result in an increase in occupational injuries and driver fatigue.

The labor groups says they are also concerned with the revised rest break provision. In the union’s opinion, the revised rule could allow a driver to spend hours performing physically demanding work and then drive up to eight hours without having to take a break.

We know when you’ll be sleeping

FMCSA’s new rules include the expansion of split-sleeper berth options which will allow drivers to split a 10-hour off-duty period into two windows: seven hours and three hours. According to OTA, that’s in addition to the existing eight-hour, two-hour option.

For now the shorter window in any split of off-duty time won’t count against the 14-hour on-duty clock. Other changes OTA notes include provisions concerning the 30-minute break requirement.

Now drivers have the additional option of logging breaks as on-duty, not-driving, as well as off-duty or sleeper berth. The requirement covering when to take the break has also been adjusted, to allow the driver to take it within their first eight hours of drive time, rather than their first eight hours on-duty.

Skip bed time, pay the fine

According to ATBS trucking, violating HoS rules can lead to a variety of penalties for both the driver and the carrier. If a driver is caught exceeding HoS, they may be placed out of service until the driver has spent enough time off duty in order to be back in compliance. Depending on the severity of the violation, the driver can be assessed fines by both state and local law enforcement officials.

Driver’s and carrier’s CSA scores can also take a hit if they aren’t complying with the HoS rules. The FMSCA says ATBS may also force civil penalties onto the driver or the carrier. These penalties can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the severity.

With ELDs some violations go by the wayside

Even though the ELD Mandate didn’t get rid of any HoS violations, ATBS explains there are some positive outcomes to note, offer that these following specific violations were a lot more common when hours were kept on paper logs:

Form & Manner Violations

  • When there were paper logs, form & manner violations were one of the most common violations. Now that there are ELDs, there is less information that a driver has to put in manually. This means there is a smaller possibility of a driver getting caught for a form and manner violation because almost everything is being tracked and inputted automatically.

Falsification of Records

  • Because hours of service data is being tracked by an electronic device, it is very hard to falsify your records. It used to be possible for a driver to log whatever hours they wanted when that information was being kept on paper logs. Now, all of this information is being tracked automatically as you drive which makes it hard to falsify.

Missing Logs Violations

  • Missing logs violations used to be common because there was a lot of paper that needed to be kept track of. ELDs have significantly reduced the chance of losing a paper log. All of the HOS logs are now just kept organized within the ELD which means if you don’t lose or destroy the ELD, you shouldn’t lose those logs.

A challenge for drivers every day

With HoS, drivers are more challenged than ever to do their jobs effectively not to mention lawfully. Will these new laws, no matter how well intended, produce intended results? It’s not entirely clear they will or actually make our roads safer.

Imagine having to document every hour in the day during the execution of your professional duties – off duty time not working, sleeping in your truck or sleeper, and every second on duty – not driving (at your desk but not working) on duty – at your desk but on the phone working and so on.

Few professions are as controlled and monitored as that of a commercial truck driver- but let’s not lose sight of one essential thing: It’s one of the most dangerous occupations there is – Top 10 – but somebody’s got to do it and truckers are getting it done, despite the Orwellian overtones of the law. It does remain to be seen if all of this will positively impact safety – but until then, always remember – if you got it, a truck brought it.