On December 27, 2011, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced a revision to the hours-of-service (HOS) safety requirements for commercial truck drivers, reducing by 12 hours the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work within a week. Under the old rule, truck drivers could work on average up to 82 hours within a seven-day period. The new HOS final rule limits a driver’s work week to 60/70 hours; it retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit.
The basic rule is 60 hours in seven days. “But if the company operates vehicles seven days a week, they can choose to put some or all of their drivers on a 70-hour, eight-day schedule,” explains Thomas Bray, senior editor - transportation management, J.J. Keller. Most construction operations will use the 60-hour week.
The rule will also require a 30-minute break during the first eight hours on duty. (These breaks were not formally addressed in the current rule.) Drivers cannot drive after working eight hours without taking a break of at least 30 minutes. It can be taken whenever they need rest during the eight-hour window. “There are some caveats to that such as munitions and hazmat where there is mandatory attendance — you can’t really go off duty,” says Dave Kraft, director of Industry Affairs, Qualcomm.
“The 30-minute break requirements could be disruptive in some cases where drivers spend a good deal of time getting ready to drive, finally get on the road, only to have to stop a short time later,” says Kraft. “So that could affect some drivers.”
Under the new rule, drivers are now permitted to sit in their vehicles when they are off duty. “In the trades, that is actually going to be a help,” notes Bray. “It used to be that if they sat in the vehicle it was considered on duty because they were in a commercial vehicle.”
That doesn’t mean drivers are off duty while waiting to be loaded. The driver can only be considered off duty if there isn’t any responsibility associated with the truck. According to Bray, a simply question can be used to determine off-duty status: Is the driver free to pursue activities of his or her own choosing? If so, then it can be considered off duty.
Understand 34-hour restart impact
One of the most significant changes to the rule is the limitation on the 34-hour restarts. In the current HOS rule, the driver takes a 34-hour break whenever he or she initiates it. There are no limitations to how and when that is done. In the new rule, this 34-hour break (restart or reset) must include two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. based on local time.
“It may only be used once a week,” says Kraft. “You can’t take it any time you want. You have to allow seven days since the last time you started one of these.”
Many construction workers drive to the jobsite, work all day and then drive back. “If those drivers are working 14 hours per day, the restart issue is going to be a problem for them,” notes Bray. It is further complicated by the requirement that two periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. must be included in the break. “It is going to be a little trickier for them to be able to get that restart if they work long hours combined with a long week.”
And don’t assume you can use the employee around the shop when their hours are up, because that still counts toward “on-duty” time. “They are going to just keep piling their hours up,” says Bray. “There is potential for some serious problems that way.”
The 34-hour reset can cause confusion or be misinterpreted. Kraft provides three examples of how it works. The first example assumes the reset occurred Saturday night. The driver was off all day Sunday and until 6 a.m. Monday morning. “The driver starts fresh Monday morning after a reset,” says Kraft. “Then the driver has a very aggressive work schedule.”
Between driving and on-duty non-driving time, he works 14 hours a day Monday through Thursday. “By Friday, after four hours of on-duty time, the driver is at 60 hours for the seven-day period and he can’t drive any further,” says Kraft. Given the seven-day requirement between restarts, he cannot begin a restart until Saturday night. “So it is 10 a.m. Friday morning and the driver has to wait to even start a reset. The best the driver can do is start driving 6 a.m. the following Monday. That is almost three days of very long reset for the driver.”
But in some cases, the reset will have very little impact. Consider an example where the driver’s work schedule is a very predictable 9 to 10 hours a day. In this scenario, the driver works six days a week. He bumps up close to the 60- or 70-hour limits, but never actually gets there.
“If we assume the driver starts at 4 a.m. every day, the driver never qualifies for the two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. time off periods, but because he never hits the 60- or 70-hour limits he doesn’t really need to,” explains Kraft. In this example, the new 34-hour restart requirement is not applicable and the driver schedule does not need to be changed.”
Drivers with variable work schedules need to carefully plan their week. “Clearly, there is more complexity when schedules are subject to changes and much more attention will be needed for planning and monitoring driver’s weekly schedules, looking backward and looking forward,” says Kraft. “Drivers [may] hit the productive 60- or 70-hour limits well before they can restart again and drivers are going to lose productive time in some cases.”