Commercial Truck Drivers Driving Without a Break: HOS 34-hour Restart Restrictions


Commercial Truck Drivers Driving Without a Break: HOS 34-hour Restart Restrictions

The trucking industry makes a profit by moving cargo and freight as efficiently as possible from point to point.  That means truck drivers have deadlines to meet.  They have a destination to reach by a certain time; that’s their job.

This means truckers driving those semi-trucks, tankers, big rigs, and tractor-trailers alongside your vehicle on the Borman Expressway, for example, are on a schedule.  They drive on the clock.

Truck Drivers Have Deadlines

Today’s a good example.  News reports have traffic at a “crawl” on the Borman Expressway. See, “Borman crawling, lake-effect snow falling,” published by NWI Times earlier this morning.  (The article has some nice photos, too, if you’re interested.)

If truckers lose time because of bad weather conditions, then they’re going to feel the pressure of that work schedule.  Truckers who lost time on Borman Expressway in the snow today will feel tempted to make every effort to meet their cargo delivery deadline.  Getting to their destination on time is their goal, it’s what they do.

HOS Rules Are Important for Truck Driver Safety and Prevention of Truck Crashes

To keep trucking companies and cargo distributors from pressuring truck drivers to stay on the roads when it is unsafe to do so, the federal government has passed laws and agency regulations to control trucker hours or driving time.

These are called “Hours of Service” regulations and they are hard-fought legislation.  It’s a continuing battle, the regulation of commercial truck driving for safety reasons. The trucking industry lobby is powerful and litigious regarding HOS and other government regulation. 

March 2017 FMCSA 34-Hour HOS Restart Regulation Report

Last week, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sent its latest report to Congress regarding Hours of Service (HOS) rules for commercial truck drivers who drive big rigs, semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, and other large cargo-carrying trucks here in Indiana, Illinois, and the rest of the country.

The title of the March 2017 report is “Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Restart Study Report to Congress.”   Read it here (“FMCSA Report”).

Specifically, the FMCSA Report deals with FMCSA’s two 34-hour restart provisions.  These two HOS regulations require:

  1. Two (2) nighttime rest periods from 1:00 am -5:00 a.m. during restart breaks; and
  2. Use of the restart to one time every 168 hours (7 days).

The purpose of these two regulations is to increase truck driver safety and lessen driver fatigue.  It is designed to prevent truck crashes by forcing truckers to take breaks and get some rest.

There is a FMCSA HOS requirement that truck drivers have a 34-hour break before they “restart” on the road.  That’s not at issue.

This FMCSA Report deals with an additional FMCSA provision that would impose additional restrictions on that 34-hour restart requirement by (1) frequency and (2) time of day regulations.

HOS 34-Hour Restart Regulation Will Not Become Law

These two requirements were suspended in December 2014.  They will stay that way, according to the FMCSA Report.

Why?  The new Report tells Congress that FMCSA has determined there is no “safety benefit” from the HOS 34-Hour Restart Regulation.  Accordingly, it’s not requesting that Congress finalize the regulation into federal law. 

Current HOS Regulations

The current FMCSA regulations are found in at 49 CFR 395.3. This is the current law that applies to commercial truck drivers.

Under this HOS regulation, there is unlimited use of the restart.  There’s not any specific requirement for resting during the early morning one o’clock (1 a.m.) to five o’clock (5 a.m.) time period.

This is the restart rule that was in effect in 2013. It went back into effect when the proposed change was suspended.

Legally, truck drivers can drive a maximum of either (1) 60 hours in a 7-day period or (2) 70 hours in an 8-day period.   That’s 10 hours a day for six days in a row, for example.   Then they have to rest for 34 hours before getting back behind the wheel.

What Would the HOS 34-Hour Restart Have Done to the Existing HOS Rule?

The 34-hour restart provision focuses on alleviating driver fatigue by ruling that truck drivers can get back behind the wheel after one of these 7-day or 8-day driving periods only after they had taken a break of 34 consecutive hours off duty.

The suspended HOS Rule would have forced that 34-hour break time to include having a break during the nighttime periods of 1 a.m. -5 a.m. in the morning, and allowing the trucker to use the 34-hour restart once per week.

After conducting a study of 200+ commercial truck drivers, FMCSA has determined that imposing these additional requirements on that HOS 34-Hour Restart Regulation is unnecessary.

Truck Drivers and the Trucking Industry Approve of Permanent Suspension of the HOS Restart Restrictions

It’s not surprising that the trucking industry approves of this suspension.  From their standpoint, the less control that the government exerts over their drivers, the better.

However, the independent truck drivers also approve of this FMCSA Report and suspension of the restart restriction regulations.

From the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers’ Association (OOIDA) Executive Vice President Todd Spencer:

“It’s not only common sense, it’s trucker sense. We have always championed the need for flexibility in the hours-of-service regulations so that drivers can drive when rested and avoid times of heavy congestion or bad weather conditions.”

Truck Crashes and HOS Regulations

From the perspective of injury attorneys advocating for victims of serious and fatal truck crashes, the danger of truck driver fatigue is serious.  Tired truck drivers, moving heavy machines at fast speeds, can cause semi-truck crashes.

Truck drivers and their accident victims often perish in a truck crash.  These are horrific accidents.

HOS Regulations are vital to getting truck drivers much needed rest and recuperation time.  They are important to truck driver safety and reduce the likelihood of truck accidents.

One good thing we can find from all this?  The FMCSA Report research confirms that the 34-Hour Restart does help truckers get more rest.  The report data found that truckers slept more during the restart break than on the job.

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There are a huge number of commercial trucks driving alongside our vehicles and those of our loved ones here in Indiana and Illinois.  Truck crashes are a serious danger in our part of the country.  Let’s be careful out there!

 

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