Heck yeah! The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, has finally proposed the new Hours of Service changes! All I can say is, IT’S ABOUT FRIGGIN’ TIME! Seriously, they’ve been promising to make things happen quicker this time around, but it sure doesn’t seem like it.
I suppose we really shouldn’t complain too much about the wait. After all, it’s only been about a year since the FMCSA first asked for public comments on the current hours-of-service. By government standards, this is Flash-like supersonic speed.
In reality, we truckers should probably be grateful that they’re proposing changes at all. If you’re looking in from the outside, everything was running smoothly. But apparently (and I know this is going to surprise you as much as it did me) our FMCSA overlords were actually listening to all us complaining truck drivers. Who knew?
So what were all of us truckers complaining about? I think U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao summed it up nicely when she said, “This proposed rule seeks to enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.” And just as before, the FMCSA Administrator, Ray Martinez is asking for public comments until
October 7 October 21, 2019.
Flexibility is the key word here.
What say we get on with all the gory details of these proposed hours-of-service changes?
There are five changes, so let’s start with the easy ones and work our way up.
Proposed hours-of-service change #1: Short Haul Exception
Driving under the current Short Haul rules, you must start your driving and return to the same facility every day within 12 hours and not drive beyond a 100 air-mile radius of that facility.
Honestly, I was sort of surprised when I saw this rule. That’s because fellow Trucker Dump Slack member and friend Trevor (@koolaid in Slack) has a local job and I know for a fact he can work up to a 14-hour day. So what’s up with that?
Upon further research, I discovered that the 12-hour workday relates to Commercial Drivers License (CDL) holders who operate within 100 miles of their home terminal and who also DO NOT run log books, which is yet another perk of the Short Haul Exception. And now it all makes sense again since I know Trevor runs a log book. At least I think I’ve got that right. If you know better, email me at TruckerDump@gmail.com.
The new Short Haul Exception would increase that distance to a 150 air-mile radius and it would also increase the drive time from 12 to 14 hours.
It’s important to keep in mind that you still cannot drive more than 11 hours per day. The extra two hours is designed to let you drive your full 11 hours if you’re delayed by traffic, weather, loading/unloading, mechanical breakdown, etc.
If you’re seeing both good and bad in this new rule, you’re not alone. Stick around until the end and we’ll be discussing these concerns. But for now, let’s keep this big rig rolling.
Proposed hours-of-service change #2: Adverse Driving Conditions
I thought this one was pretty straightforward, but as The Evil Overlord often tells me, “You’re wrong.” Sadly, she’s often right. Grrrr. I think I’ve got this figured out though. It’s a subtle change, but an important one if you find yourself in adverse driving conditions.
First, let’s define the term Adverse Weather Conditions. According to part 395.2, the FMCSA website defines it as “… snow, sleet, fog, other adverse weather conditions, a highway covered with snow or ice, or unusual road and traffic conditions, none of which were apparent on the basis of information known to the person dispatching the run at the time it was begun.”
So technically, if you found out about icy roads before you left the shipper and yet you still decided to hit the road “knowing” you could claim the Adverse Driving Conditions exception, you’d be wrong. Now how anyone could prove you knew before you left without obtaining a warrant for your Internet browsing history, that’s a different story. LOL
Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s move on to the current rule, which states that you may extend your DRIVING time up to two hours due to adverse driving conditions, but you cannot drive past your 14 hours (15 for passenger-carrying vehicles).
The subtle difference in the proposed new rule is that the two hours of extra allowable drive time DOES extend your 14 hours (15 for passenger-carrying vehicles).
For example, under the current rule, let’s say you’re 13 hours into your workday and you’ve driven 10 hours so far. You’ve got one hour left to drive on your 11 and one hour left on your 14 to find a good parking spot for the night. Perfect!
But then you encounter adverse driving conditions, a.k.a. an icy road that’s greasier than Danny Zuko’s Elephant trunk. You can drive two more hours now because of the weather, right? Wrong. Two more hours would put you one hour over your allowed 14.
That’s the difference in the current rule and the new proposed rule. Under the new rule you’d be able to drive the two more hours because your 14 hour rule is extended too. Nice!
Clear as mud now?
Proposed hours-of-service change #3: 30-Minute Break
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as I reported on the last Trucker Dump Podcast, the stupid 30-minute rule is here to stay. I’m still not sure why they’re so adamant about keeping it, but whatever. It is what it is. At least they’re trying to alter it a bit to give us some more flexibility.
We’ve got another subtly here. The current rule states that you need to take a stupid 30-minute break (Off-Duty or Sleeper Berth) if more than 8 hours has passed since your last Off-Duty or Sleeper Berth break of at least 30 minutes. Obviously I’ve added the word “stupid” there, but I can’t bring myself to say “30-minute break” without adding “stupid” to it.
As most drivers know, this rule is especially frustrating when you’re almost to the spot where you’ll be shut down for 10 hours, but since it’s been 8 hours since your last stupid 30-minute break (or longer), you now have to find a spot to park while you stare out the window for 30 stupid minutes (please tell me you aren’t blocking a fuel bay).
As I’ve said about a kerjillion times (props to @Furiosa in the Trucker Dump Slack group for that word), I can’t recall one single instance where a stupid 30-minute break didn’t make me MORE tired instead of energizing me. Seriously. If you don’t believe me, just go back and read my Twitter feed for the last few years. Grrrr. Any who, the proposed new rule only has a slight modification.
You will still have to take a break if it’s been more than 8 hours since your last one, but now the slightly less stupid 30-minute break can be taken using any duty status other than Driving.
While this doesn’t fix the idiocy of the rule in general, it should help. After all, the purpose of the stupid rule is to keep us from driving more than 8 hours straight. right? Then why in the name of John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt did the stupid 30-minute break always have to be logged as Off-Duty or Sleeper Berth?
Am I driving while I’m fueling? No. Am I driving while I’m counting freight on a customer dock? No. Am I driving while I’m standing in line to get a delicious Steak Chalupa at Taco Hell? If I am, then I’m doing it wrong.
The fact is, most truckers get a stupid 30-minute break in without even trying. Maybe we fuel and run into the truck stop to grab a coffee. That’s going to take close to 30 minutes right there. Say 15 minutes of On-Duty, Not Driving time, plus 15 minutes of Off-Duty time. As long as it’s 30 continuous minutes of a combination of Off-Duty, Sleeper Berth, and On-Duty, Not Driving, then you’re golden for another 8 hours. Sweet!
One of the immediate benefits most of us will see is that the pretrip inspection will no longer count towards the 8 hours. Typically after a 15-minute pretrip, I’ll only have 7.75 hours to drive before I need to take the stupid 30-minute break. So if the new rule sticks, that 8-hour countdown won’t start ticking until I go onto the Drive line. Woo-hoo!
While it stinks worse than a teenage boy’s feet that the stupid 30-minute rule still exists, it’s better than it was before. Sad; because now I’m going to have to keep saying the word “stupid” far more often than I’d like to.
Proposed hours-of-service change #4: Split-Sleeper Berth
Let’s be clear; I’m not a fan of the Split-Sleeper Berth, but I don’t think it’s stupid, unlike another rule we won’t mention again. The problem is, it’s too darn confusing to do a split.
Just the other day in the Trucker Dump Slack Group, two truckers with over 50 years of combined experience were having a disagreement about how the split sleeper berth was calculated. If they have a hard time with it, how the heck are new truckers supposed to understand it?
To be honest, any time I absolutely had to do an 8/2 split to pickup or deliver on time, I always called the safety department to get help. Hey; better to ask than to do it wrong and screw up!
Here’s the way the current split sleeper berth works (Dear Lord: Please help me to not sound like a moron. Amen.)
After 11 hours of driving, a trucker is required to log a continuous 10-hour rest period before they can drive again. Or they can split that into two breaks of 8 and 2 that total 10 hours. By the way, it doesn’t matter if you take the 2-hour part of the break or the 8-hour part first.
Under current rules, one of those two breaks needs to be 8 continuous hours of Sleeper Berth, while the other can be 2 continuous hours or more of Off-Duty, Sleeper Berth, or a mixture of the two. So for instance, you could log Off-Duty for 30 minutes then log in the Sleeper Berth for 1 hour, and finish it off with 30 more minutes on the Off-Duty status.
The 8-hour portion of that break DOES EXTEND the 14 hour rule, but the 2 hour break DOES NOT. This can really come in handy if you’re delayed at a loading dock for 8 hours. If you do a split, you haven’t lost any of your driving hours.
As if this weren’t confusing enough as is, now let’s talk about how long you can drive while using the split sleeper berth option. Ugh. I’ve already prayed so let’s dive right in.
Let’s say you drove for 6 hours. You arrive at a shipper and it takes them 8 hours to load you. Now normally 6 hours + 8 hours = 14 hours, so you’re done for the day thanks to the 14-hour rule. But if you log that 8 hours all in the Sleeper Berth status, you’ve just started an 8/2 split.
So how long can you drive now? The best way I’ve had this explained to me is that if you add the two Driving sessions BEFORE and AFTER one of the breaks, that combined total cannot exceed the 11 hours allowed.
Therefore, in this example you’ve driven 6 hours. Now that you’ve logged 8 hours in the Sleeper Berth, you now have up to 5 more hours to drive (6 hours BEFORE + 5 hours AFTER = 11 hours) before you need to take another break.
At this point, you have two options. First, you could save your sanity by taking a full 10-hour break and getting back on a normal 11-hour driving/10-hour rest period schedule. Or if you’re a complete nut-job, you can take a 2-hour break (as described above) and keep going with the split. You can even run like this continuously if you’ve completely lost your marbles. Again, I’m only going to hassle with this if it’s absolutely necessary to get the job done.
Okay, so you’ve taken the crazy pill and you’ve completed a 2-hour break to keep going with the split. How long can you drive now? Another 11 hours? Nope; that’s for sane people, not you. Let’s do the math.
Let’s say you drove the full 5 hours you had available. In that case, you’d have another 6 hours available to drive after the 2-hour break. Remember the guideline from above about counting driving time on both sides of either of the split breaks? So 5 hours of driving BEFORE the 2-hour break + 6 hours of driving you’re getting ready to do AFTER would total 11 hours again. Yeah! You now know how to stay legal!
But let’s change that scenario a bit. Now let’s say you only drove 3 hours instead of the full 5 hours you had available. Now if you do the math, you drove 3 hours BEFORE the 2-hour break, which means you now have 8 hours to drive again AFTER the break. Because 3+8=11. Yes?
Do you see now why I say only crazy or desperate people do the 8/2 split? And believe it or not, it get’s even more confusing when you start figuring that the 8-hour break doesn’t count toward the 14, but the 2-hour break does. But we won’t get into that, largely because it confuses me more than when Kate Hudson married that ugly dude from The Black Crowes.
Now the proposed new Split-Sleeper Berth.
Thankfully, this will be easier to explain. First, they want to add an option to do a 7/3 split to the already-existing 8/2. Again, the longer 7-hour break would need to be logged all in the Sleeper Berth and the 3 hours can be logged as any continuous combination of Off-Duty and Sleeper Berth.
This wouldn’t change our Driving hours math at all. All driving hours BEFORE and AFTER the 7-hour or 3-hour break would still need to total 11 hours of driving or less.
The second change to this rule is now both of the rest periods would extend the 14-hour clock. Remember, under the current rule only the 8-hour break would extend it. Under the new rule, the 8, 7, 3, or 2-hour breaks would extend the 14 hours.
Honestly, I haven’t used the split sleeper rule enough to know how the changes in this new rule will affect the way we drive. I know the 7/3 wouldn’t mean that much to me because if I was delayed for 7 hours on the current rule, I would simply wait until the 8-hour mark so I could count it as a legal split break. But I guess anything that extends the 14 hours is a good thing. To be continued.
Proposed hours-of-service change #5: Split-Duty Provision
Just you aren’t confused like I was when I read “Split-Duty,” everyone in the trucking world has been calling this the “14-hour pause.”
We actually just discussed the current 14-hour rule in the previous section. Basically, once you start your day, you have 14 hours to complete it. The only thing that can extend the 14 hours is an 8-hour Sleeper Berth break that will be used in a split sleeper berth scenario.
After that 14 hours is up, you CANNOT drive again until you take a legal 10-hour break. However, it’s important to note that you can still WORK after the 14 hours is up. So if it takes you 14 hours to get loaded and arrive at your delivery point, you can still do a post-trip inspection or even unload a trailer for 3-4 hours after the 14 is over. Just as long as you don’t start driving again until you get that 10-hour break in.
The problem with the current 14-hour rule.
The 14-hour rule has haunted truckers ever since it was enacted in 2003. Actually, before that there was a 15-hour workday basically since 1938 when the hours-of-service started. I think it’s odd that I never heard anyone complaining about it when The Evil Overlord and I started driving in 1997. I can’t imagine having one measly hour more would make much of a difference, but I digress.
In general, drivers have been screaming that the unrelenting 14-hour clock makes the roads less safe, not more-so. The reasoning is that we often don’t have time to pull over to take a nap or get off the road during rush hour if we want to get the most out of our driving hours. We aren’t wrong.
Let’s look at it. You’ve got 11 hours to drive and 14 hours to do it. That leaves 3 hours to play with. That seems like sufficient time, right? If you believe that, clearly you haven’t been trucking for very long. I’m talking to you, FMCSA rule makers.
Okay. You use at least 15 minutes at the beginning of your day for a pretrip inspection. You probably lose another 15 minutes fueling, possibly more. Most carriers require you to log at least 15 minutes checking into and out of a customer, so if you have both a pick up and a delivery on the same day, there’s another 30 minutes gone. Add that up and that’s one hour minimum of the 14 eaten up right there. Now you’ve got 2 hours to play with.
But loading/unloading takes time. Sometimes LOTS of time. You could easily waste 2 hours at one of those customers! Heck, a lot of carriers allow a customer 2 hours before they even start charging them for detaining their driver. Some still don’t charge them at all! Seriously, it’s not uncommon at all for a trucker to waste 4-5 hours of their day loading/unloading. Not cool.
So now you’re “eating into your 11 hours drive time.” Every trucker already understands this term, but I’ll explain it for the non-truckers.
Let’s say you wake up after a 10-hour break and you’re ready to roll at 8 AM. You do a pretrip inspection, fuel, drive 8 hours to the delivery and sit around for 3 hours getting unloaded. That’s 11.5 hours total. So you still have 3 more hours to drive, right (11 hours maximum drive time minus the 8 hours previously driven = 3 hours drive time)? Well, you would if the 14-hour rule didn’t exist. Instead, you actually only have 2.5 hours to drive.
You see, you started your day at 8 AM, which means your 14 hours is up at 10 PM. But we said you’ve used 11.5 hours of your time with driving, fueling, inspections, and loading. So now it’s 7:30 PM (8 AM + 11.5 hours = 7:30 PM). Remember, we said you must be done driving by 10 PM, therefore you actually only get to drive for 2.5 more hours, not 3 hours (10 PM minus 7:30 PM = 2.5 hours). This is how we drivers lose drive time, aka “eating into our drive time.”
So basically, we just lost money because we couldn’t drive all 11 hours we had available. Yes, it’s only 30 minutes of our drive time lost in this scenario, but imagine if it had taken even longer to unload. If we were there for 5 hours instead of 3, that would’ve been 2.5 hours of lost productivity. Not only am I losing money, but my employer also lost the revenue I could’ve been making for them with those unused drive hours. And don’t forget the safety factor.
A driver may want to take a nap or get off the road to avoid rush hour, but remember, any time spent not driving is money they aren’t earning. So drivers can’t always sleep when they’d like to, nor can they avoid heavy traffic if they’re butting up against the 14-hour rule. Well they could, but in reality we all know what’s going to win that battle when there’s money on the line.
According to their website, “The primary mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.”
How exactly does that mission statement line up with what you just heard/read? We can’t always sleep when we want to and we can’t always avoid heavy traffic either. I’m so confused.
Enter the 14-hour “pause.”
Sticking with the FMCSA’s “adding flexibility” goal, the newly proposed rule allows for up to a 3-hour “pause” in the 14-hour workday, which basically results in the 14 hours being extended into a 17-hour workday under certain circumstances. Yes, that sounds awful. We’ll discuss that bit of controversy in a bit.
Under the new rule, it would add the option to “pause” the workday with one continuous Off-Duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than 3 hours continuous. The length of this break relates to how long the 14 hours is extended. So a 30-minute break (pause) would extend the 14 hours to 14.5 hours. But if you took the full 3 hour break, you’d get to extend out to 17 hours!
Now let’s have another look and see how our earlier 14-hour scenario would’ve played out if we could’ve used the new “pause” feature.
If you recall, you took a 3-hour break at the delivery location. Under the new rule, you could claim that 3 hours as a 3-hour pause, which means the 14 is magically extended to 17 hours. Voilà! Not only are you not losing any of your valuable drive time, but you would still have 2.5 hours to stop and take that nap or avoid the loop from Hell, commonly known as Atlanta rush hour!
And that finishes up the 5 new proposed hours-of-service changes. But of course, that’s not the end of it.
In a surprise that I don’t think any trucker in-the-know would’ve anticipated, both the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) quickly praised the newly-proposed rules. If you’re not in-the-know, these two industry trade group rivals often clash because one is speaking for owner operators and the other represents many of the large carriers.
But like anything in trucking, not everyone agrees that the proposal is so great; and for good reason.
So what are some of the main concerns?
The ups and downs of the new proposed hours-of-service changes.
There’s really not much downside to the Adverse Driving Conditions, the new 30-minute rule, or the added 7/3 sleeper berth. But of course, there’s always something to complain about.
Again, the FMCSA sees all this as “adding flexibility.” I guess that really depends on your point of view. The first complaint has to do with the time extensions associated with both the Short Haul Exception and the “Pause” feature.
Short Haul Exception concerns
Obviously, jumping from 12 hours to a 14-hour workday could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your viewpoint.
First the good. If you’re paid hourly, that’s an extra two hours of pay, isn’t it? And if that 2 hours puts you into overtime-land, then that’s some major extra bling-bling for your neck. You’re going to be so totally gangsta if this new rule goes into effect.
Likewise, if you’re paid by the mile or per load, having an extra two hours to play with might let you squeeze in a few more miles or cram in one extra load before the 14-hour clock ticks down. You know, it really is such a helpless feeling when your paycheck is affected by something that is completely out of your control (think traffic or mechanical failure).
The downside is that if you simply don’t want to work the extra two hours, you may be screwed. I think the verdict is still out on whether a driver will have any choice in the matter. Well, I suppose they always have a choice. It’s just that their choice might be to find a new company who won’t force the extra two hours on you.
The “Pause” concerns
Much like the Short Haul Exception, the “Pause” rule has a lot of potential to be abused by shippers/receivers and trucking companies alike. Will a carrier expect you to take the “pause” to maximize your workday? Probably. Their logic will be that if you can use the pause, then you should use the pause. Many drivers will disagree.
I’m going to have to side with the truckers here (surprise, surprise). Nowhere in these proposed rules did I see where it says this pause is mandatory, so I think we can expect to have to continuously lock horns with our dispatchers about it.
Having said that, it’s important that you have this discussion with them. Don’t just do what they tell you to do because you don’t want to get in trouble. That’s a rookie mistake.
Remember that someone is always hiring in the trucking industry. That means they need you more than you need them. If you don’t want to utilize the “pause,” then don’t. If they keep trying to force it on you, find another employer who won’t. It’s really that simple. Believe it or not, there are carriers out there that will do the right thing.
But hey, if you’re willing to do a pause to maximize your earning potential and your opportunity to control your time, then have at it. I know I would. Although to be honest, most of these proposed rules won’t make a lick of difference to me with my new LTL job.
I think the shippers/receivers are a bigger concern. They already show a blatant disregard for a trucker’s time. I fear that their attitude now will be “Hey, we have an extra 3 hours to play with.” Again, much like the carriers, they’ll think we’ll want to use the pause feature.
In reality, no trucker wants to work even a 14-hour workday, let alone a 17-hour day! But many of us will if it will maximize our efficiency.
Obviously, if you’re an owner operator, you have the option to avoid customers who abuse the “pause” feature, but my guess is most company drivers will have to suck it up like buttercup.
How can you make your voice heard?
Now it might be tempting to stand on the sidelines thinking you don’t have any control here. But remember the horrible 34-hour rule from 2013 that required two breaks between 1 AM and 5 AM in order for it to be legal? And what about the fact that you could only use a 34-hour break once per week to reset your 70 hours? Yeah, both of those stupid rules were suspended in 2014 due to lots of criticism from drivers like you.
Here’s your chance to do it again. Is there something you’d like to see changed with these new rules? If you need an easy guide to the proposed changes, then go here. Then when you’re all loaded up with knowledge and a bucket full of opinions, go and submit your comments! You only have until October 7, 2019!
In general, I think these proposed changes are good for truckers… as long as you don’t let anyone force you into working longer hours just because you legally can.
As much as I hate to admit it, the FMCSA actually came through with their promise to add flexibility to the current hours-of-service. All five proposed changes do just that. Now we just have to see what ultimately makes the cut.
Listen, some drivers are going to love these new rules. Some will hate it for good reasons. Others will hate it simply because it’s yet another change.
I think trucker Logan Tarr put it best on Facebook when he asked complaining truckers, “Sounds good to me, I don’t really know what y’all want? They take away flexibility (ELD mandate) and you complain, they try to add flexibility and you complain.”
I simply recall the old joke:
What’s the difference between a puppy and a trucker?
The puppy quits whining eventually.