The U.S. Transportation Department has announced they are moving to relax the current federal regulations around Hours of Service for commercial drivers. Interest groups for carriers and drivers have been lobbying the Trump administration for revisions to make the hours on road rules more flexible.
Currently, truck drivers in the U.S. can only be driving for 11 hours during a 14-hour shift. They must take a 10-hour break before returning to duty. Drivers who will be driving for more than 8 hours must take a 30-minute break as well. Hours of Service (HOS) regulations have existed since the 1930s, but have repeatedly been changed throughout the years. The latest round of rules was implemented back in 2013.
The goal of HOS regulations is to limit driver fatigue. Asleep or fatigued drivers reportedly caused a number of fatal crashes involving large trucks in 2017.
However, while the current rules about driving times seem good in theory, they pose complications for drivers and carriers. There is no grace period, meaning if a driver is only minutes from their home or delivery destination they are still required to stop. Busy or infrequent truck stops also mean that some drivers are forced to park in unsafe areas such as the side of highways in order to comply with these rules.
Electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which most trucks are now required to use, record off-duty and on-duty hours. These devices automatically and precisely record driving times. While ELDs are an effective way to prevent drowsy driving, they don’t account for real-life circumstances.
Traffic, weather delays, or long waits while shipments are loaded and unloaded eat away at a driver’s time. This often results in them driving faster to make up for lost time, which creates a safety issue in itself. Breaking the HOS rules can be costly for truckers. They might be declared “out of service” for a day or longer for even going a minute beyond the time limits.
While many in the trucking industry are lobbying for more flexibility when it comes to driving times, others see the move as dangerous. President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety stated, “I think flexibility is a code word for deregulation.” Truck driver safety is an increasingly pressing issue as new data shows that fatal crashes involving large trucks have increased.
The Trump Administration has a close working relationship with the trucking industry so flexibility may be coming to HOS regulations. However, bipartisan legislation to require new trucks to be implemented with speed limiters was introduced to the Senate, meaning safety regulations are still a priority to the U.S. government. Hopefully, whatever happens, will result in safe roads and a thriving transportation industry.