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Say Hello To The HOURS Act

There have been some pretty big movements in Washington D.C. as of late. With trucking advocacy organizations putting increasing pressure on Congress to address the Hours of Service issues in light of the new ELD mandate, it appears lawmakers might finally be spurred into action. This isn’t the only bill that has been introduced to address HOS problems, yet might we actually see this one pass?

Let’s take a closer look at the legislation.

The HOURS Act

Called the Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety, or HOURS, Act (H.R. 6178), would offer “narrow” relief to truckers operating in specific niches or conditions. It would also provide the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) with the language it needs to speed up its efforts in modifying the split sleeper berth exemption.  The HOURS Act was put forward by Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR), Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia), and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR).

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has come out in strong support of the legislation, referring to it as “common sense hours-of-service relief and flexibility for professional truck drivers while enhancing highway safety and supply chain efficiency.” They went on to say in their statement on the bill that the trucking industry needs to see improvements on the underlying HOS rules now that they are reaching close to full compliance with the ELD mandate.

ATA President and CEO Chris Spears specifically linked the passage of this legislation to trucking safety endeavors, as this will provide flexibility where it is needed. So, what are the concerns that the ATA has with HOS now that the ELD mandate has been deployed in full force?

Finding Relief

The ATA contends that the HOURS Act will provide specific HOS relief in several areas. First, livestock or agricultural products will be exempted from the rules if they are within 150 air-miles of their source load. This would apply to all truck drivers within this category, regardless of planting or harvesting season.

The legislation would also harmonize HOS rules for short-haul truckers. If a short-haul trucker is operating within 150 air-miles of their reporting location and can complete their workday in 14 hours or less, they will be exempted from HOS regulations.

In a bid to stave off the large document burden, the HOURS Act would also reduce the number of supporting documents a truck driver must use to verify their start and end time during a specific on-duty period. And finally, it would push the FMCSA to clarify how truck drivers who take off-duty periods in sleeper berths can split their time.

The Sleeper Berth Issue

The FMCSA has recently made efforts to develop “statistically reliable evidence” regarding how split-sleeper-berth time impacts truck driver safety, performance, and overall levels of fatigue. In order to find out the impacts, the pilot program would give a small number of truck drivers temporary relief from the HOS sleeper-berth regulation.

The study would track truck drivers who regularly use sleeper berths. The major change would be to allow participating truck drivers who use a sleeper berth to accumulate their 10 hours of non-duty work status to split that time up within parameters set by the FMCSA. During the pilot program study period data would be gathered regarding performance and fatigue levels.

Currently, the regulations do not adequately cover how sleeper berth operators are best set up to utilize their time. Interstate truck drivers who operate a commercial motor vehicle with a sleeper berth must use that sleeper berth in compliance with the minimum eight consecutive hours in the sleeper with two consecutive hours beyond that either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any other combination of the two.

With current regulations allowing truck drivers to use one 10-hour period or splits of nine and one hours or eight and two hours, truck drivers have very little flexibility. The FMCSA also stated that truck drivers participating in the study could use any combination of split berth times, whether it be for three and seven, four and six, or two five-hour periods.

The pilot program would address the issue of having to take that off-time consecutively, instead giving truck drivers the option to split their sleep up into no more than two sleeper berth segments. Once truckers are enrolled in the study, they can split or consolidate their sleep schedules however they choose, offering the greater flexibility truckers have been asking for. Of course, they will still have to meet the minimum daily rest requirements.

As usual with new rulemaking, the FMCSA is seeking public comment on the new pilot proposal. They are also asking that those who leave a public comment also weigh on additional questions. First, they want to know if there are any additional safeguards that should be in place to provide a level of safety without requiring a sleeper berth exemption.

They also want to know if data collection efforts that have been proposed are too burdensome or create enough problems to discourage participation. And finally, if truck drivers are operating in a team, how should the government require the data be collected? To view the entire proposal, follow this link.

To leave your own public comment regarding the proposed pilot, click or tap here.

While the pilot program seems like it would be a no-brainer, it currently sits “in limbo,” awaiting approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

Detention Time is an Issue

Beyond how a truck driver is allowed to split up their off-duty time, detention time is also a factor. According to a report by the DOT’s Office of Attorney General, detention time increased truck crash rates and reduces truck driver and motor carrier income by around $1 billion annually.

While the issue of fatigue is important and always a topic of conversation, lawmakers and industry stakeholders must understand that the inability to stop the clock once something outside of the truck driver’s control happens is critical. While it is easy for many on either side of the issue to advocate a truck driver simply pulls over to the side of the road and “takes a nap,” that proposal is far easier said then done.

If a truck driver is detained at a facility for anywhere up to 2 hours and they had taken a 3 hour nap prior, they would be racing against the clock to finish their day before hitting up against HOS rules. Say goodbye to the opportunity to eat, get fuel, use the bathroom, or anything else, so as not to lose out on time.

The ELD Dances with HOS

There have been a series of conversations between trucking interests and lawmakers regarding adding greater flexibility to the HOS rules, which have remained largely unchanged for nearly a century. Industry advocates push the narrative that the trucking industry has looked for a long time at this aspect and collected enough data on it to require a change in the existing regulatory framework.

The complaints regarding ELD usage is not confined to the ELD itself, but rather to the HOS rules that underly the mandate. Issues may have been peppered over with inadequate paper logs, but that doesn’t make those issues any less important. While truck drivers may not be able to fudge their logs anymore, ELDs have exposed critical problems with HOS rules.

Yet, will we see the HOURS Act passed? We are in a very hyper-partisan environment, so it could be that we don’t see any such legislation pass until after the mid-term elections, thus furthering to cloud the issue and kick the can down the road. Single-bill legislation has not been doing very well in Congress, so it could be that the Act needs to be attached to a larger omnibus funding measure or otherwise.

FMCSA Says ELD Mandate is Working

While there may be a lot of problems with base HOS rules, the FMCSA has also reported that the latest data shows the ELD mandate is working. In a new website infographic, the FMCSA provides a look at how HOS compliance has changed with the onset of the ELD mandate.

Notably, since the mandate went into effect, the CVSA’s out-of-service criteria for ELD violations came in at less than 1% out of all truck driver inspections reported since the rollout. Even more, only 0.64% of all truck driver inspections in the month of May had at least one HOS violation. One year earlier that number was 1.31%, a far higher number statistically speaking.

When “soft enforcement” was first phased in, the number dropped from 1.19% in December to 0.83% in at the start of the New Year. It wasn’t until the big deadline hit on April 1st the number took another big dip and now is at its lowest level ever at 0.64%.

With so much riding on potential HOS changes, one can only wonder whether we will see any real movement before 2019. If truckers and trucking companies have any say in the matter, that answer will be an emphatic “We hope so!”

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