In 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made some pretty significant revisions to its hours-of-service regulations, including to the so-called "short-haul exemption." But what exactly is the short-haul exemption? Who qualifies for it, and from which requirements are short-haul drivers exempt?
In essence, the short-haul exemption is a limited regulatory exemption available to commercial drivers who operate exclusively within a 150 air-mile radius of their normal work reporting location and who are released from duty from that location no later than 14 hours after they start working on a given day. Drivers who meet these conditions are exempt from having to keep detailed records of duty status (aka driver logs) either on paper or through Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs).
In this article, we'll take a deeper dive into the exemption to clarify its scope and to whom it applies. We'll also address the exemption's various nuances.
From which requirements are short-haul drivers exempt?
One of the most common misconceptions about the short-haul exemption is that it is all-encompassing. In other words, some will say that drivers who qualify as short-haul exempt drivers are completely exempt from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), including requirements like DOT medical examinations, hours-of-service limits, etc. Don't believe them! The short-haul exemption is a fairly narrow one, providing relief from only the following three specific regulatory requirements set forth in 49 C.F.R. Part 395.
Records of Duty Status (aka Driver Logs) - Perhaps the biggest benefit of the short-haul exemption is the relief it affords to commercial drivers from having to keep detailed logs of their duty status changes each day. Typically, commercial drivers are required to track their duty status (i.e., driving, on-duty (not driving), off-duty, or sleeper berth) throughout the day on either a paper graph-grid log or with an ELD. For many drivers, this involves dozens of duty-status changes per day, which must be documented. Short-haul drivers are exempt from this logging requirement, but they still must keep track of the times that they start and end work each day and the total number of hours worked each day on a daily timecard.
ELDs - Since short-haul drivers are exempt from having to log their duty-status each day, it makes sense that they are also exempt from the ELD mandate, since ELDs are really just a replacement for paper driver logs. The added benefit of qualifying for the short-haul exemption is the expense you'll save in having to purchase and equip your commercial vehicle(s) with ELDs.
30-Minute Rest Break - In addition to relief from the onerous logging requirements, short-haul drivers are also exempt from the 30-minute rest break requirement, meaning they need not be afforded--at least for DOT regulatory purposes--or take a rest break after accumulating 8 hours of driving time, as would any other commercial driver who is subject to the FMCSRs.
Noticeably absent from this list of exemptions are any driver-qualification-related requirements and the actual hours-of-service limits. That's right, even short-haul exempt drivers must be fully qualified under the FMCSRs (e.g., valid licenses, current medical cards, MVRs, etc.) and must comply with the hours-of-service restrictions (i.e., 11-hour driving limit, 14-hour driving window, 60/70-hour limit).
Who qualifies for the short-haul exemption?
Prior to September 29, 2020, this question was a little more difficult to answer, as the criteria differed slightly for CDL versus non-CDL drivers. As a result of the FMCSA's rule change, however, the criteria is now uniform for both CDL and non-CDL drivers. Commercial drivers who meet the following conditions qualify for the federal short-haul exemption. These criteria are set forth in 49 C.F.R. 395.1(e).
The driver operates solely within a 150 air-mile radius (172.6 statute/road miles) of his/her normal work reporting location;
The driver returns to the work reporting location and is released from work within 14 consecutive hours;
The driver has at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty (for property-carrying drivers) or 8 consecutive hours off-duty (for passenger-carrying drivers) separating each 14 hours on-duty;
The motor carrier employing or engaging the driver retains timecards for each qualifying driver for a period of at least 6 months showing (i) the time the driver reports for duty each day; (ii) the time the driver is released from duty each day; (iii) the total number of hours the driver is on-duty each day; and (iv) the total time the driver has been on duty for the preceding 7 days.
What if I exceed the air-mile radius or hours restriction?
Eligibility for the short-haul exemption is considered on a driver-by-driver and day-by-day basis. This means that if a particular driver meets the criteria outlined above on Day 1 but not on Day 2, he/she is entitled to the exemption on Day 1 but not on Day 2. In this example, the driver would be required on Day 2 to keep a detailed log of his/her duty status and would also be required to take a 30-minute rest break if he/she accumulates 8 hours of driving time. If the driver then meets the short-haul criteria on Day 3, he/she can revert back to keeping daily timecards in lieu of driver logs and avoiding the 30-minute rest break requirement.
The one caveat to this analysis has to do with ELDs. Typically, commercial drivers who are required to log their duty status each day must do so using an ELD. However, the ELD mandate contains its own set of exemptions, one of which applies to short-haul drivers who do not exceed the scope of the exemption more than 8 times in a rolling 30-day period. Practically speaking, this means that short-haul drivers are allowed to exceed the scope of the exemption up to 8 times in any 30-day period without having to utilize an ELD to track their duty status on the days that they don't meet the criteria. These drivers must still document their duty status on those days using driver logs, but those logs can be in paper form rather than through ELDs. However, once a driver accumulates 9 days in a 30-day period where he/she has exceeded the scope of the short-haul exemption, he/she would have to utilize an ELD to track duty status or else be in violation of the ELD mandate.
One question you hear frequently with short-haul drivers is what happens if they don't realize they have or need to exceed the 150 air-mile radius or the 14-hour work limit until later in the day. Do they still need to complete a detailed log and take a 30-minute rest break even though most of the day is behind them? The answer is "yes." The FMCSA has clarified that drivers who normally qualify for the short-haul exemption but occasionally exceed the scope of that exemption must, as soon as it becomes evident to them that they will exceed the scope on a given day, begin logging their duty status and take a 30-minute rest break (if they have accumulated 8 hours of driving time).
The short-haul exemption can be a very valuable tool for commercial drivers and motor carriers if used correctly. It eliminates the onerous logging requirement, saves time by removing the 30-minute rest break, and saves money by eliminating the ELD requirement. That said, drivers and carriers must understand that the exemption is limited in scope, and they should have processes in place to ensure that drivers either remain within that scope or fully comply with the regulations on the days that they don't.
If you are in need of a sample short-haul timecard, we have one available in our resource library. And if you are interested in even more in-depth discussions of the short-haul exemption, hours-of-service requirements, and other aspects of the FMCSRs, please check out our DOT Compliance: the Basics eBook and our comprehensive online training courses through Trucksafe Academy.