It’s 2023, and personal conveyance remains one of the most misunderstood and abused aspects of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. It is one of the leading contributors to log falsification violations, roadside out of service orders, elevated hours-of-service scores, downgraded safety ratings, and civil penalties. In fact, personal conveyance misuse is so prominent that it has its own violation code in the Safety Measurement System (SMS) methodology.
With so much at stake, it’s critical that carriers and their drivers understand exactly when personal conveyance is acceptable. In another article, we broke down the FMCSA’s guidance on this topic, including its examples of permissible and impermissible PC use.
FMCSA data on PC violations discovered in 2022-2023
But what we’ve found is that despite their best efforts to internalize the agency’s PC guidance, carriers and drivers continue to run into problems. So in this article, we’re going to tackle what we view as the five most common personal conveyance mistakes and how to avoid them, in no particular order.
1. The “safe haven” fallacy
We often hear drivers and carriers justifying their use of personal conveyance by claiming to use the status to find a “safe haven” to obtain a required rest break. In other words, the driver has run out of available hours and has switched over to personal conveyance status to find a safe location to park and rest.
In most cases, this is NOT a permissible use of personal conveyance. There is simply no such thing as a “safe haven” allowance for personal conveyance use.
The one and only exception to this general rule is a situation where a driver runs out of available hours while waiting to be loaded or unloaded at a shipper or receiver facility. In that limited circumstance, FMCSA’s personal conveyance guidance says it is permissible for the driver to utilize personal conveyance status to leave the shipper’s or receiver’s facility and drive to the very first available safe resting location to obtain the required rest break.
A couple of important notes here: (1) this allowance is NOT applicable in situations when a driver runs out of hours after already leaving the shipper’s or receiver’s facility; and (2) a driver who runs out of hours while at a shipper or receiver location can only use PC to get to the VERY FIRST available safe resting location. Put differently, the driver cannot pass other safe resting locations in PC status to get to a more preferred location.
So you may be asking what’s the solution if you run out of available hours while on the road? Well, FMCSA and law enforcement will tell you the answer is better planning on your part. You need to be seeking out available resting locations well before you are up against your time limits. Flipping to PC status in these scenarios will inevitably end up with you being cited for log falsification, which, in most cases, is worse than the underlying substantive hours-of-service violations you would have incurred otherwise.
2. Misuse of “commute” time
Another common misunderstanding is that drivers can “commute” to/from their resting location and a shipper or receiver facility in off-duty PC status. This misunderstanding undoubtedly has its roots in the FMCSA’s personal conveyance guidance, which states that the following situations are permissible uses of PC: “Commuting between the driver’s terminal and his or her residence, between trailer-drop lots and the driver’s residence, and between work sites and his or her residence.”
Folks often misinterpret this section of the guidance as broader than it really is. Simply put, so-called “commute time” can only be properly logged as off-duty personal conveyance when a driver is operating a commercial vehicle to/from the driver’s residence and his/her normal work reporting location, in most cases the carrier’s terminal. It is expressly NOT permissible for drivers to log commute time to/from their homes and a customer facility.
But what about the reference to “work sites” in the FMCSA’s guidance, you might be asking. What exactly is a “work site” if not a customer location? It’s a good question, and one that we had early on when the agency first published the guidance. But the FMCSA has offered the following clarification:
The guidance allows for “authorized use of a CMV to travel home after working at an offsite location.” What is meant by the term “offsite” when used in this context? The term refers to a location, other than a carrier’s terminal or a shipper’s or receiver’s facility, where a driver works for a temporary period for a particular job. Specifically, this term is intended for construction and utility companies that set up base camps near a major job and operate from there for days or weeks at a time. These remote locations are considered “offsite” locations. Therefore, travel between home and that offsite location is considered commuting time, and qualifies as personal conveyance.
So, in essence, personal conveyance is only appropriately used for “commuting” when that commute time is between the driver’s residence and a carrier terminal or other offsite location where the carrier has set up shop.
3. Enhancing operational readiness
The FMCSA’s personal conveyance guidance very explicitly prohibits drivers from using PC status to “enhance the operational readiness of a motor carrier.” But what exactly does that mean?
Well, the example given in the guidance is “bypassing available resting locations in order to get closer to the next loading or unloading point or other scheduled motor carrier destination.” Another common example is repositioning an empty commercial vehicle in personal conveyance status such that it is closer to the next pickup point.
Simply put, if the commercial vehicle is being moved in a way that readies it for its next move, then such time should be logged as driving rather than off-duty personal conveyance.
4. Overreliance on PC
We often encounter carriers and drivers who rely heavily on PC even when it gains them nothing. Take this example: Driver runs a regular weekly route starting at 7am and ending at 4pm each day, with the weekends off. In this example, the driver is really never at risk of violating the substantive hours-of-service limits. At most, he’s driving 9 hours a day and 45 hours a week. There’s virtually no risk of him running afoul of the 11-hour driving limit, the 14-hour driving window, or the 60/70-hour limit.
Despite this, the driver may be tempted to use personal conveyance status to log commute time, etc. as off-duty personal conveyance. But that’s just inviting unnecessary scrutiny, in my opinion. If the driver has plenty of available hours, what benefit is there to logging ANY time as off-duty personal conveyance? There is none.
Certainly, there are various types of operations where drivers need the flexibility to legitimately log their driving time as personal conveyance. But there are plenty of drivers who simply do not need to use the status at all, and their overreliance on the status does nothing but cause problems.
5. No restrictions/limitations
True enough…the FMCSA’s guidance places no temporal restrictions on the use of PC. A driver could theoretically operate a commercial motor vehicle for 24 hours (or more) straight in off-duty personal conveyance status and not run afoul of any hours-of-service regulations. But surely you can see the problems with this mindset.
First and foremost, even if the rules allow such operation, it’s a bad idea for a variety of non-regulatory reasons, namely heightened highway accident exposure. No one can deny the devastating impacts that stem from fatigued driving. It’s one of the most frequent contributors to catastrophic accidents.
If you are operating a vehicle for lengthy periods of time without restorative rest, then you are just asking for trouble, even if what you are doing is technically “legal.” Do you really want to be in the position of having to defend your actions in front of a jury that is charged with determining whether those actions were reasonable under the circumstances?
Additionally, extended use of PC status undeniably draws additional scrutiny from law enforcement. It’s fairly easy for law enforcement to overlook small segments of PC use throughout the day, but large segments of off-duty PC use stick out like a sore thumb.
For these reasons alone, it’s important for carriers and drivers to place reasonable limitations on PC use even though the regulations and FMCSA guidance don’t technically require it.
Personal conveyance can be a double-edged sword. It offers carriers and drivers some much needed flexibility when it comes to available working hours. But at the same time, it is easy to misuse and abuse, which frequently leads to trouble. If you understand and avoid the most common ways that PC can lead you astray, you'll be much better off in the end. For in-depth training on this topic and other hours-of-service issues, be sure to check out our online hours-of-service course for drivers and safety managers. And if you still have questions, please feel free to contact us.
About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a monthly live show on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who have assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.