The FMCSA Is Changing Hours of Service: 4 Updates to the Final Rule

Tom Jensen

Headshot of Tom Jensen, UPS VP of Public AffairsTo help give you gain a clear understanding of recent hours of service changes as you prepare your business for the remainder of 2020, we asked UPS VP of Public Affairs, Tom Jensen, to lend his insight. He has been heavily involved in hours-of-service reform for several years. 


The ELD mandate — initially implemented in December of 2017 — required all drivers to electronically track their Hours of Service (HOS) with a digital recording device, synced up to their truck’s engine.

While this has resulted in greater HOS compliance, it also has also decreased driver flexibility, making it more difficult for carriers to operate efficiently in certain scenarios.

To help offset some of these compliance challenges, industry advocates (including UPS) worked together and pushed for some commonsense changes to the existing rule.


The FMCSA Approved Changes to HOS Regulations

In the fall of 2019, the proposed HOS changes began the slow, methodical journey of the federal rulemaking process with the FMCSA (aka the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation and oversees HOS regulations).

Back in January, I detailed each step of the process leading up to the implementation of the proposed HOS changes.

outline of the process from current state to implementation chart


In mid-May, I received great news — the FMCSA approved all the proposed changes, and on June 1st, 2020, published them to the federal register. This was faster than most anticipated; I expected a final decision in Q3 at the earliest.

Though these changes will not have a monumental impact, there are no small victories in D.C., these new regulations will help improve the quality of life for many drivers*.


An important side note: HOS regulations are federal rules, not laws. That means they are created and regulated by the executive branch (the DOT specifically). Therefore, changing them was not a legislative process — Congress didn’t create or vote on a bill (though they could, which is unlikely).


When Will the New HOS Rules Go into Effect?

It takes 120 days from the time a regulatory change is signed into the federal register to when it goes into effect.

These HOS changes were signed into the federal register on June 1st, and will go into effect on September 29th, 2020. Until then, carriers should continue to go by the current HOS rules.


4 Upcoming Changes to the HOS Final Rule

The new, final rule for driver HOS addresses four key areas in which industry advocates requested changes.


1. 30-Minute Rest Breaks 

Current Rule: May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes. 

Revised Rule: Now, instead of being required to go to off-duty status for the 30-minute break, drivers will be able to use an on-duty/not driving period to satisfy the requirement.

That means if a driver has been on-duty for 8 hours and is getting unloaded at a facility, they can count that on-duty/not driving time as their 30-minute break, and continue driving once loaded (up to the 11 hour driving limit).


2. Sleeper Berth Provision

Current Rule: Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.

Revised Rule: Now, drivers have two options they can use when splitting their required 10 hours off-duty.

Option 1: 8 hours in the sleeper berth, 2 hours off-duty (in the sleeper berth or otherwise).
Option 2: 7 hours in the sleeper berth, 3 hours off-duty (in the sleeper berth or otherwise).

This helps to give drivers more flexibility, and it is especially beneficial for driver teams, giving the team more options as they rotate from behind the wheel to the sleeper berth.


3. Adverse Driving Conditions  

Current Rule: A driver who encounters adverse driving conditions (snow, sleet, etc.) and cannot safely complete the run within their allotted maximum hours may drive for up to two additional hours beyond the maximum time allowed to complete that run or to reach a safe place.

Revised Rule: The exception has been extended by two hours. Drivers will only need to utilize this in rare circumstances, as they don’t want to be operating their truck in adverse conditions any longer than is necessary.


4. Short-Haul Exemption (Air Mile)

Current Rule: 100 air mile radius drivers are exempt from keeping a record of duty status and from using an ELD. The maximum amount of time that a 100 air mile radius driver can be on-duty is 12 hours. 

Revised Rule: Now, the 100 air mile exemption will be expanded to 150 air miles, and the maximum amount of time an exempt driver can be on-duty will be 14 hours.

For reference, an air mile is the same as a nautical mile (slightly longer than a “statute” mile).

The exemption is designed to give certain commercial drivers — that operate in local, short hauls with a consistent base of operations (like a package delivery driver) — more flexibility. The update just expands the scope of that flexibility.    


Which FMCSA Hours of Service Regulations Are Staying the Same?

Beyond these four changes, everything else will remain the same.

For more information on the full HOS regulations, the FMCSA has published several resources, including a summary, Q&A guidance, and of course, the full rule is available to the public on the federal register.




What Do Carriers Need to Do to Prepare?

On September 29th, 2020, the changes will go into effect. Fortunately for carriers, they do not need to do much — if anything — to prepare for implementation.

For most carriers, the most important thing is to make sure your drivers know how to properly record their status in their ELDs and understand that they now have more flexibility when preparing their record of duty status.


How Will This Affect Capacity and Service?

While these important changes will help give drivers more flexibility in their day-to-day life on the road, they will not create a noticeable difference for the trucking industry at a high-level.

The added flexibility should lead to some modest improvements in efficiency, both for carriers scheduling their fleet and shippers setting appointment times.

It will also allow drivers a little more leeway to accommodate their customers’ needs. That said, there will not be a noticeable impact to the market.


Learn how you can use your ELD location data to your fleet’s advantage.


*The preceding article is not legal advice. You should not rely on the information set forth here, and consult with your own counsel and/or government resources for questions regarding Hours of Service requirements.

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