What Driving Regulations Are Truckers Subject to?
Are trucking drive-time regulations about to change?
In August 2019, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced proposed changes to the regulations that limit how long truckers can spend behind the wheel. These drive-time regulations, or “hours of service,” tightly control how long truckers are allowed to drive, when they must take breaks and how much time must pass between on-duty shifts.
FMCSA plans to increase the number of hours truckers can spend on a single shift and change the way required breaks work.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says the proposed changes seek to “enhance safety by giving America’s commercial drivers more flexibility while maintaining the safety limits on driving time.”
However, many safety advocates disagree, linking serious or fatal trucking accidents to driver fatigue.
What driving regulations are truckers subject to?
Because truckers are commonly paid per mile, most try to put in as many miles as possible, sometimes physically pushing themselves to stay on the road—even when they feel exhausted. And as anyone who’s ever driven a long leg of a road trip knows, you eventually lose focus when you’re tired.
Drive time caps are meant to limit truckers’ incentive to push themselves. Currently, long-haul truckers may have 11 hours of driving time in a 14-hour on-duty window. Before they can go “on-duty” again, they must log 10 hours off-duty. Additionally, if they’re driving for 8 hours or more, they have to take a 30-minute break.
Electronic logging devices track off-duty and on-duty time. Because they’re wired to the truck’s engine, they’re less likely to be fiddled with than paper logs. And the punishments can be stiff for rule breakers. Even driving a minute or two beyond what’s allowed can cost truckers a day or more of work.
What changes could we see on the roads?
To anyone who isn’t a long-haul trucker, the existing drive-time regulations likely already sound extreme. It’s hard to imagine staying alert and responsive for a 14-hour window.
But many truckers find the rules too restrictive. The proposed changes would allow truckers to take their 30-minute break while they’re on-duty but not driving—for example, while they’re waiting for cargo to load. The changes would allow for a pause of up to three hours, say to wait out traffic, as long as drivers still took the required 10 hours at the end of their shift. The new rules would also change how drivers could use their sleeper berths.
Additionally, certain short-haul truckers would see their max on-duty shift extend from 12 hours to 14.
While the modifications would certainly add to drivers’ flexibility, they would also suddenly increase the number of hours spent on the road, with no guarantee the driver would or could sleep during a break.
That’s why safety groups are against the changes, especially considering how many large truck accidents lead to fatalities. According to the FMCSA, the same administration proposing extending service hours, 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle drivers who were involved in a crash were fatigued at the time.
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