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Freight Transportation

New Driver Hours of Service Rules Will Have Questionable Impact

Larry Catanzaro | June 05, 2013

The FMCSA wants a safer trucking industry.  But new driver hours of service rules, effective July 1, are an impractical means to this end goal.  To understand why, let's first examine the rules currently in place.

Drivers who work for transportation firms that operate 7 days a week are allowed to work 70 hours in 8 days before taking a mandatory 34 consecutive hour rest break (best known as the reset period). Drivers that work for companies that do not operate every day are restricted to working 60 hours in a 7 day period before the reset period is needed. 

Regardless of which rule you fall under, drivers are limited to 14 hours of consecutive work time.  Included in this time, drivers can drive up to 11 hours per day.  Once a driver reaches 14 hours of driving and on-duty, non-driving time, that driver must take a 10 hour break before resuming duties.   

So what will be changing in July? 

First, the new hours of service rules introduce a mandatory 30-minute break that has to be taken during any period of 8 hours worked.  The 30-minute break counts towards the maximum work hours. 

Secondly, the 34 hour reset period is currently taken at any time, as long as the driver does not go over the maximum allowed work hours.  The new rules say the reset period has to include two consecutive periods (days) that include breaks between 1:00 am and 5:00 am. 

Here are the potential negative impacts of the new driver hours of service rules:

  • Capacity constraints. The 30-minute break reduces the amount of time a driver can work each day and the new 34 hour reset rule could extend a driver's time off requirement up to 51 hours.  This will only add to well-publicized industry capacity constraints – a problem for shippers and providers of freight transportation services.
  • Depressed driver earnings. The regulations further limit the available hours drivers can work, negatively impacting their earnings.  Is this a way to attract more drivers to an industry in dire need of drivers?
  • Safety concerns. Drivers will naturally try to work harder and faster to minimize the impact of the new rules on their paychecks.  We all know what happens when we rush.  Also, is it just me who thinks it is safer to have trucks on the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. when there is minimal traffic? 

With the new hours of service rules, I believe the FMCSA wants to improve safety in the industry, but is the strategy working?  Lately, I find myself wondering if the regulations introduced over the last few years may have been counterintuitive.  

Here is a link to the most recent Federal Motor Carrier Accident data published in March of 2013 – www.fmcsa.dot.gov/documents/facts-research/CMV-Facts.pdf

Take a look at the last 3 years of accident data.  Feel free to draw your own conclusions.