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Driver Hours of Service, Explained: 4 Key Elements of the FMCSA Rule

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 ELDs result in greater HOS compliance, it also 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 worked together and pushed for some commonsense changes to the existing rule.

Let's take a look at this important federal transportation regulation that is now the law of the land. 


The FMCSA Approved Changes to HOS Regulations

In the fall of 2019, the proposed Hours of Service 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).

The FMCSA approved all the proposed changes and on June 1, 2020, published them to the federal register.

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

outline of the process from current state to implementation chart


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 Did 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 1, 2020 and went into effect on September 29, 2020.


4 Elements of the Current 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 

Previous 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: Instead of being required to go to off-duty status for the 30-minute break, drivers may 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

Previous 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: 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  

Previous 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 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)

Previous 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: The 100 air mile exemption has been expanded to 150 air miles, and the maximum amount of time an exempt driver can be on-duty is 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 Have Stayed the Same?

Beyond these four changes, everything else remains 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.


How Has This Affected Capacity and Service?

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

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

It also allows drivers a little more leeway to accommodate their customers’ needs.

That said, there has not been a noticeable impact to the market attributable to these changes.


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*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.