On August 28, 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, seeking to establish a pilot program in which a limited number of federally-regulated drivers would be permitted to pause their 14-hour driving window with one off-duty break of between 30 minutes and 3 hours each day. According to the agency's news release, the pilot program would serve to gather "statistically reliable evidence to analyze the safety and feasibility of such a modification to the hours-of-service rules."
This announcement comes on the heels of the FMCSA's recent hours-of-service overhaul, which resulted in the following revisions:
Modifies the existing 30-minute rest break requirement such that a break would only be required after a driver accumulates 8 hours of drive time (as opposed to on-duty time), and allows the break to be satisfied by on-duty/not-driving time in addition to off-duty time;
Lengthens the maximum on-duty period and air-mile radius for the CDL short-haul exemption to 14 hours and 150 air-miles, respectively;
Modifies the adverse driving condition exception to extend by two hours the maximum driving window during which driving is permitted; and
Allows drivers who take advantage of the split sleeper-berth exception to split their required 10-hour off-duty period into two periods of 7 hours (sleeper berth) and 2 hours (sleeper berth or off-duty), and counting neither period against the driver's 14-hour driving window.
You may recall that these revisions, which are set to take effect on September 29, 2020, were originally accompanied by a 14-hour pause allowance, similar to the one that is now proposed as a pilot program. Due in part to concerns raised by various safety groups, the FMCSA left the 14-hour pause out of its most recent rule change.
According to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the agency is seeking public comments on its proposed pilot program through the end of October. If the proposal goes through, drivers who are accepted into the pilot program will be permitted to exclude a single off-duty break of between 30 minutes and 3 hours from their 14-hour driving window, so long as they have previously obtained a full 10-hour off-duty break. The FMCSA reasoned:
[T]he Agency continues to believe that an off-duty break of up to 3 consecutive hours during a work shift may enable drivers to avoid congestion. The subsequent driving time would then be more productive, as drivers may have a greater opportunity to travel at the posted speed limits rather than at lower speeds through heavy traffic and congestion. It may also reduce the pressure to drive above the posted speed limits because of concerns raised by the 14-hour clock. In addition, drivers could take a rest break to reduce the likelihood of experiencing fatigue while driving. Because drivers would continue to take 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift, exercising the pause option during the work shift would increase the drivers' off-duty time during the work week. This increased productivity, resulting from an ability to avoid congestion, would be accomplished without altering the maximum amount of on-duty time that could be accumulated before driving is prohibited, or increasing the maximum driving time allowed during a work shift.
The agency intends to gather data from the pilot program to determine whether the 14-hour pause accomplishes these goals and whether it has any negative impact on commercial motor vehicle safety.
For more information about the pilot program and how the 14-hour pause might impact your operations, please contact us.