Let's say your drivers park their commercial vehicles at their homes and then use those vehicles to commute to and from their local terminal each day. How should they log that commute time? Or what if your driver is detained at a receiver's facility for several hours while waiting to be unloaded and in the meantime runs out of available driving hours to proceed home. Can she log her subsequent drive time as off-duty personal conveyance?
Of all the hundreds (maybe thousands) of safety regulations contained within the FMCSA's safety regulations, there's nothing quite as amorphous as the concept of personal conveyance. In this article, we'll explore the things you absolutely must know about personal conveyance.
What exactly is personal conveyance?
Personal conveyance, for those unfamiliar with the concept altogether, refers to a scenario where a regulated driver operates a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for personal use (i.e., not at the direction of a motor carrier) in off-duty status, meaning that time is not counted against his/her available hours. In essence, personal conveyance is a limited exception to the requirement that all time spent at the operating controls of a commercial motor vehicle must be logged as driving time on the driver's records of duty status.
Sample Personal Conveyance Use
As you might imagine, the idea of logging driving time as off-duty is fraught with the potential for misuse in order to conceal hours-of-service violations. For example, if a driver has reached his/her 11-hour driving limit but is still 30 miles from the destination, there's certainly a temptation to flip over to off-duty personal conveyance status to complete the move. With that in mind, you might think that the FMCSA has settled this in its safety regulations, but it really hasn't.
Personal conveyance is not addressed within the regulations themselves.
If you're looking for a definition of the term "personal conveyance" amongst the hours-of-service rules of Part 395 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), you will be disappointed. Indeed, the FMCSRs, themselves, say absolutely nothing about personal conveyance. Instead, you have to look to the FMCSA's informal guidance--which doesn't carry the force of law but is generally understood as binding on the agency--to understand the concept and its bounds. The agency's personal conveyance guidance has morphed over time but currently states:
Question 26: Under what circumstances may a driver operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) as a personal conveyance?
Guidance: A driver may record time operating a CMV for personal conveyance (i.e., for personal use or reasons) as off-duty only when the driver is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work by the motor carrier. The CMV may be used for personal conveyance even if it is laden, since the load is not being transported for the commercial benefit of the carrier at that time. Personal conveyance does not reduce a driver’s or motor carrier’s responsibility to operate a CMV safely. Motor carriers can establish personal conveyance limitations either within the scope of, or more restrictive than, this guidance, such as banning use of a CMV for personal conveyance purposes, imposing a distance limitation on personal conveyance, or prohibiting personal conveyance while the CMV is laden.
The agency's guidance makes clear that the key to personal conveyance is that the driver must be "relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work by the motor carrier." Put another way, if a driver is operating a CMV at the direction of a motor carrier (e.g., to have the vehicle serviced) or to enhance the operational readiness of the carrier for the next load (e.g., bobtailing overnight towards the next shipper facility), the driver cannot log the time as off-duty personal conveyance. Notably, the current guidance clarifies that a driver is not necessarily disqualified from using personal conveyance if his/her vehicle is laden with cargo. This is a departure from the agency's earlier guidance, which had said that a laden CMV could not be used for personal conveyance. That said, the circumstances under which a driver operating a laden CMV can legitimately claim off-duty personal conveyance status are more limited.
Obviously, the agency's narrative guidance leaves the concept of personal conveyance open to interpretation in dozens of specific scenarios, such as those presented at the top of this article. To address this, the guidance goes on to include some of the most common examples of moves that qualify (and those that don't) for personal conveyance.
Examples of moves that qualify as personal conveyance.
According to the FMCSA, the following examples are permissible uses of off-duty personal conveyance status:
Time spent traveling from a driver’s en route lodging (such as a motel or truck stop) to restaurants and entertainment facilities.
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. In these scenarios, the commuting distance combined with the release from work and start to work times must allow the driver enough time to obtain the required restorative rest as to ensure the driver is not fatigued.
Time spent traveling to a nearby, reasonable, safe location to obtain required rest after loading or unloading. The time driving under personal conveyance must allow the driver adequate time to obtain the required rest in accordance with minimum off-duty periods under 49 CFR 395.3(a)(1) (property-carrying vehicles) or 395.5(a) (passenger-carrying vehicles) before returning to on-duty driving, and the resting location must be the first such location reasonably available.
Moving a CMV at the request of a safety official during the driver’s off-duty time
Time spent traveling in a motorcoach without passengers to en route lodging (such as motel or truck stop), or to restaurants and entertainment facilities and back to the lodging. In this scenario, the driver of the motorcoach can claim personal conveyance provided the driver is off-duty. Other off-duty drivers may be on board the vehicle, and are not considered passengers.
Time spent transporting personal property while off-duty.
Authorized use of a CMV to travel home after working at an offsite location.
A couple of points worth noting. First, although commute time is listed as an example of permissible personal conveyance use, it's limited to situations where the driver is commuting to/from his/her home and the carrier's terminal. Commute time does not include commuting from a driver's home directly to/from a shipper's or receiver's facility, which means that time must be logged as driving.
Also, with respect to the "authorized use of a CMV to travel home after working at an offsite location," the FMCSA has clarified to me more than once that this example is limited to situations where a carrier itself has essentially set up an alternative base of operations for longer-term projects, such as a construction company working at a particular job site for months on end, in which case drivers can log their time spent commuting to/from that location as personal conveyance. In essence, the offsite location has become akin to the carrier's terminal in those situations. Note, however, that this example does not authorize a driver to log time spent driving to or from a shipper's or receiver's facility as personal conveyance.
The only instance where it would be permissible for a driver to log driving time from a shipper's or receiver's facility after loading or unloading as off-duty personal conveyance is listed in the third example above--time spent traveling to a nearby, reasonable, safe location to obtain required rest. Importantly, even in those limited circumstances, the guidance clarifies that the driver must still have adequate time to obtain the required rest (e.g., a full 10-hour off-duty period) even when accounting for the additional personal conveyance driving time.
Examples of moves that don't qualify as personal conveyance.
The FMCSA's guidance goes on to list some of the most common examples of moves that do not qualify as personal conveyance:
The movement of a CMV in order to enhance the operational readiness of a motor carrier. For example, bypassing available resting locations in order to get closer to the next loading or unloading point or other scheduled motor carrier destination.
After delivering a towed unit, and the towing unit no longer meets the definition of a CMV, the driver returns to the point of origin under the direction of the motor carrier to pick up another towed unit.
Continuation of a CMV trip in interstate commerce in order to fulfill a business purpose, including bobtailing or operating with an empty trailer in order to retrieve another load or repositioning a CMV (tractor or trailer) at the direction of the motor carrier.
Time spent driving a passenger-carrying CMV while passenger(s) are on board. Off-duty drivers are not considered passengers when traveling to a common destination of their own choice within the scope of this guidance.
Time spent transporting a CMV to a facility to have vehicle maintenance performed.
After being placed out of service for exceeding the maximum periods permitted under part 395, time spent driving to a location to obtain required rest, unless so directed by an enforcement officer at the scene.
Time spent traveling to a motor carrier’s terminal after loading or unloading from a shipper or a receiver.
Time spent operating a motorcoach when luggage is stowed, the passengers have disembarked and the driver has been directed to deliver the luggage.
In addressing the topic of personal conveyance, the agency's Director of Enforcement Joe DeLorenzo has suggested that drivers and carriers not overthink the topic. He recommends they ask:
“Am I off duty? Am I doing any work at the request of the motor carrier, rather than for myself? Is the major purpose of why the motor vehicle is being moved personal? Is it for a nonbusiness-related purpose?”
Carriers are free to, and should, place restrictions on personal conveyance use.
While the FMCSA's guidance makes clear that drivers and carriers are free to use personal conveyance in situations that qualify for it, it's important to note that carriers are not compelled to allow drivers to do so. In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to--and many carriers do--require drivers to log all time operating a CMV as driving time rather than personal conveyance. As an alternative, it is also acceptable for carriers to place limitations on the use of personal conveyance. For example, many carriers have written policies in place that are specific to personal conveyance. Some of those policies place a time or distance limitation on personal conveyance use (e.g., no more than 30 minutes or 25 miles of personal conveyance use per day).
There are a number of reasons carriers may wish to curb the use of personal conveyance use among its drivers, including cutting down on the misuse of the status and the potential regulatory violations that stem from it, as well as minimizing highway accident exposure in situations where a driver is operating beyond the legal hours in personal conveyance status. Ultimately, it is up to each carrier whether and to what extent it will allow drivers to utilize personal conveyance status. In my opinion, if personal conveyance status is allowed, carriers are well advised to place specific limits on its use in a written company policy.
Personal conveyance has been a fairly ambiguous and controversial topic in the industry over the years. And although the FMCSA has tried to address the ambiguity through periodic revisions to its regulatory guidance on the topic, it remains a pretty grey area. Carriers should take care to study and understand the FMCSA's guidance on the topic and put some operational controls in place to ensure that drivers do not misuse the status.
If you need assistance drafting a personal conveyance policy for your fleet, please contact us. For more in-depth discussions of the FMCSA's hours-of-service rules and other regulatory topics like driver qualification, vehicle maintenance, drug/alcohol testing, DOT enforcement, and more, check out our DOT Compliance: the Basics eBook. Also, for comprehensive online regulatory training courses on these types of issues, look no further than our Trucksafe Academy!