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On Sep. 17, trucking industry stakeholders held a second listening session regarding the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) proposed changes to the hours-of-services rules that regulate the commercial trucking industry. The proposed changes, which were announced earlier this summer, came with the stated goal of “enhanc[ing] safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.” Critics of the changes, however, have argued that the updates could instead make roads less safe.

Five major changes were announced in the original proposal:

  • Truckers would only need to take seven consecutive hours off-duty per shift, while the three remaining off-duty hours could be used at another time. This would replace the currently-mandated 10-hour consecutive break.
  • Truckers could use 30-minute breaks while on-duty but not driving (e.g., while waiting for a shipment to be processed). This would allow them to complete entire shifts without a single off-duty break.
  • Drivers could take one off-duty break between 30 minutes and three hours long that would not be counted in their 14-hour driving limit, effectively “pausing” their shift.
  • Drivers could extend their shifts during adverse conditions such as hazardous weather or heavy road congestion. More specifically, long-haul commercial drivers would be permitted to extend their on-duty period from 14 to 16 hours during dangerous road conditions.
  • Short-haul driver maximums would be extended to an on-duty maximum of 14 hours instead of 12. Additionally, operation distance limits for short-haul drivers would increase from 100 to 150 air miles.

Safety advocates have pointed out that the changes could worsen the already widespread problem of trucker fatigue. In response to the FMCSA’s original notice, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety announced that it was opposed to the changes, saying that the “changes proposed… could have drastic safety impacts, particularly due to the potential to increase driver fatigue.” These concerns were echoed in the two-hour Sep. 17 listening session, during which safety advocates reiterated that the relaxed rules would lead to increased fatigue for truckers, making highways less safe.

FMCSA officials will need to play close attention to the potential safety implications of loosening current HOS laws before any changes go into effect. In the meantime, a public comment period will remain open until Oct., 21, 2019.

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