House Appropriations Committee Report: More HOS Regulation Changes

The Department of Transportation will receive $1.9 billion from the bill.  These funds will be used in 2022 to improve a variety of DOT goals that have been approved by Congress.  The Department of Transportation has a number of divisions, but the trucking industry has already heard some new initiatives are incoming in 2022. Some that could radically change current trucking regulations. Specifically Hours of Service or HOS.

Concerns About Hours of Service (HOS) Regulations

New hours of service (HOS) rules that impacted fleets, carriers and owner-operators went into effect on September 29, 2020.   The changes to the hours of service (HOS) regulations were in part, a response to increased demand for container freight and drayage.  The impact of COVID-19 on supply chains continues to impact every industry and service, from retail to commercial production, and healthcare. 

On September 29, 2020, the HOS Final Rule took effect.  It allowed for some major changes and exceptions for both short and long-haul trucking. It is important to review the four main areas that were impacted in September, because it is likely the rules will be changing again in 2022.

The four updates to the HOS Final Rule Included:

1. Short-Haul HOS Exception

In September 2020, the short-haul exception maximum allowable work hours in a day was changed from 12 hours to fourteen (14).  The definition or limit to the definition of short-haul was also extended from a 100 mile radius to a 150 mile radius.

Trucks carrying property or passengers and using the §395.1(e)(1) short-haul exception were no longer required to take a thirty (30) minute driving break.  And they were exempted from having to record their driving time and breaks in an electronic logging device (ELD).  They still had to maintain a manual log of their time.

The exceptions were to help short-haul carriers to improve the speed and efficiency of retail and supply deliveries.  It wasn’t anticipated that it would be a permanent change, because it created the possibility of truckers working longer hours.  And inaccurate reporting of HOS that could lead to safety issues.

2. Adverse Driving Conditions HOS Exception

Delivery of emergency and consumer goods during hurricanes and ice storms is difficult enough. But when you add hours of service restrictions, it makes it harder for trucking companies to expedite container freight.

The Adverse Driving Conditions Exception helped solve the problem. It gave truckers an extra two hours per day when severe weather conditions created delays.  Cargo or freight carriers were allowed to extend hours of service in bad weather from twelve (12) hours to fourteen (14) and remain compliant with HOS regulations.

3. The Thirty (30) Minute Break Requirement

In the original HOS regulations, a thirty-minute mandatory break meant that the truck driver had to be relaxing, or resting.  However, after the September 29, 2020 amendment, drivers who are cargo carrying, could also take a on-duty break as well. That would also count toward the required thirty-minute break, after eight hours of driving. 

The new regulation amendment §395.3(a)(3)(ii), allowed drivers to count the thirty-minute break as off-duty time, in the sleeper berth, or as an on-duty (but not driving) period.  It still required the driver to clock that thirty-minute break consecutively (not breaking it up in 2 x 15 minute breaks, for example) to be legally compliant.

4. The Sleeper Berth Provision

Under new hours of service (HOS) regulations, a truck driver must have at least a ten (10) hour off-duty period.   But at least one period of that break must be two hours of consecutive break time (inside or outside of the sleeper berth). And then another rest period of at least seven (7) hours in the sleeper birth, adding up to ten total hours of off-duty per day.  The other fourteen (14) hours per day a driver is permitted to be in-service.

Congress is waiting for more information on the impact of changes to HOS (hours of service) on reducing collisions and improving safety.  If the HOS introduced in 2019 was successful in reducing rates, there may be no changes.  But industry experts are expecting another tweak to the HOS regulations.

Parts of the HOS Amendments That the Appropriation Committee Wants Changed

If it seems like trucking regulations are changing frequently, you aren’t imagining it.  In the past few years, the number of collisions involving heavy trucks on American highways have increased.  So have the number of truck and civilian vehicle collision fatalities. 

According to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of truck crashes in Texas alone, increased 27% from 2016 to 2019.  And Texas had more truck accident fatalities than any other state in 2019.   The statistics also reflect that Port of Houston and other freight ports in Texas  handle the highest TEUs out of any state.  Port of Houston is the largest and busiest port in the country.

Nonetheless, the DOT and transportation groups want to see some solutions that make the number of collisions go down.  And the amount of loss from human life to damages and cargo go down as well.  And they want to see routes uninterrupted so that goods can keep flowing without problems through the U.S. supply chain.  Jobs and businesses depend on it.

Other Regulation Changes That May Be Coming in 2022

The House Appropriations Committee addressed some other concerns regarding commercial transportation in the approved bill and budget.  The bill stipulates that within 90-days of the 2022 DOT budget going into effect, there will be a guidance to check on Drive safety and fitness rulemaking.  In other words, the DOT will have to propose a plan to check whether a CDL driver or owner-operator is fit to drive a truck.

No one knows that a fitness test might look like, but it could involve both a physical evaluation and a written test to check for awareness of new regulations.  The physical test may only be issued to drivers who have experienced a collision.  Or it may be required for drivers over the age of fifty-years, or older. This could have a negative impact on the trucking industry, as the average age of a CDL driver in the United States is 55+.

A ‘large truck crash study’ has been ordered by the Appropriations Committee. This is in response to increasing truck accident rates.  Human injuries from people who were involved in a heavy truck accident in 2019 increased by 5%.   And deaths from truck collisions nationwide increased 36% since 2010.

Another requirement of the funding provided to the DOT was to upgrade the FMCSA in terms of IT.  Up to $65 million of the budget has been earmarked to provide new technology hardware and software systems to the FMCA.

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