The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that it is seeking public comment on revising four specific areas of the current hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, which limit the operating hours of commercial truck drivers.
Earlier this year, the congressionally mandated electronic logging device (ELD) rule, which required most FMCSA-regulated motor carriers to convert their records from paper to an electronic format, became effective. While compliance with the ELD rule has reached nearly 99% across the trucking industry, it has also brought focus to HOS regulations, especially with regard to certain regulations having a significant impact on agriculture and other sectors of trucking, FMCSA said in the notice.
The four main areas under consideration for revision are: (1) expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on duty to 14 hours on duty to bring consistency to the rules for long-haul truck drivers, (2) extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions, (3) revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after eight hours of continuous driving and (4) reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks that are equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
Agricultural groups welcomed the news, seeing it as a positive step in recognizing the differences agricultural truckers face.
Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau Federation, said the proposal recognizes the difficulties inherent in moving farm commodities and livestock alike.
“We are grateful for this first step to consider options for flexibility in hours-of-service rules. Farm Bureau will continue to work with our partners in industry, FMCSA and Congress to find long-term solutions that address the unique needs of transporting agricultural products, the hauling of live animals in particular. It is imperative that we seek solutions that account not just for motorist safety but the health and welfare of animals being transported, as well,” Walmsley said.
Allison Rivera, executive director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. (NCBA), also expressed gratitude for FMCSA’s willingness to consider options for flexibility on the HOS rules.
“NCBA will continue to work constructively to find a long-term solution that gives livestock haulers the flexibility they need within hours of service to protect the welfare of animals in their care,” Rivera said. “The proposals released are a positive step towards focusing on needed changes to hours of service, but more specific changes that address the unique realities of the livestock hauling industry are still needed. We will continue to work with FMCSA to provide flexibility for the livestock hauling industry.”
Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) also appreciated the efforts by FMCSA. In December 2017, Noem co-sponsored legislation that would delay the ELD mandate for two years. In February 2018, Noem sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation to request exemptions for small businesses with exemplary safety records.
“No one wants to compromise when it comes to safety, but hours-of-service regulations place unnecessary strain on South Dakota trucking operations,” Noem said. “I’m thrilled to see the Department of Transportation offer up an alternative today. This is no home run, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m hopeful they will listen to the feedback of South Dakota truckers and make the right decision that provides added flexibility for those responsible for moving our food supply.”
Individuals looking to participate in the public comment period can submit feedback until Sept. 20. Comments can be filed here.