A good indication of a healthy economy is an increase in semi-trucks on the roads. Trucks provide a crucial connection between suppliers and sellers and ensure that consumers are able to receive the goods they need. However, due to the large size of semi-trucks and the countless hours truck drivers spend on the road, the potential for semi-truck accidents is high. These accidents can be catastrophic for the individuals involved and often lead to lengthy and complex trucking accident lawsuits. However, new FMCSA rules regarding the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers may provide safer roadways for both semi-trucks and non-commercial drivers.
Current Laws Surrounding Semi-Trucks
The laws surrounding semi-trucks are complicated and governed by complex state and federal regulations. Federal rules and regulations govern semi-truck insurance requirements, record-keeping requirements, hours of service, and record-retention benefits. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates these federal rules. The most hotly contested of these newly proposed regulations has been the hours of service requirement. This requirement limits when and how long a semi-truck driver can be on the road. In 2018, the FMCSA developed an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to receive public comments on parts of the hours of service requirement. These proposed changes were said to “alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads.”
2018 FMCSA Proposed Truck Driver Hours Regulations
The proposed truck driver hours revisions included:
- Expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on-duty to 14 hours on-duty, in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;
- Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when a truck driver encounters adverse driving conditions;
- Revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8-hours of continuous driving; and
- Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
2019 FMCSA Modifications to 2018 Proposed Trucking Regulations
The FMCSA received more than 5,200 comments on their advanced notice of proposed rulemaking. Many of these comments came from truck drivers themselves, who expressed the need for relief from strict regulations that may force them to drive while fatigued. The FMCSA took these comments into account and developed another advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in 2019 based on the responses they received.
The new proposed rules included the following revisions to the existing hours of service requirement:
- Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute-break rule by tying the break requirement to 8 hours of driving time without interruption for at least 30 minutes. Allowing the driver to satisfy their break by using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty.
- Modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off-duty into two periods. One period must be at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth. The second period cannot be less than two consecutive hours, either off-duty or in the sleeper berth. Neither period would count against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
- Allow one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than 3 hours, pausing a truck driver’s 14-hour driving window. The driver must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
- Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by 2 hours the maximum permitted driving window.
- Change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours. Also extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
New FCSMA Regulations and Truck Driver Hours
In May 2020, the FMCSA published its final rule updating the hours of service requirement imposed on semi-truck drivers. The final rule contained four revisions to existing hours of service requirements, including:
- Increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
- Modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split. Neither period counts against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
- Modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the permitted maximum driving window.
- Change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours. Extend the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.
Importantly, the FMCSA stated that these rules do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent semi-truck drivers and other commercial operators from driving more than eight consecutive hours without at least one thirty-minute break. Instead, the rules give semi-truck drivers more autonomy over when those breaks can be taken. Further, an estimated $274 million in cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers are the result of these new FCSMA rules. These new rules will go into effect on September 29, 2020.
Do the New FMCSA Rules Improve Safety?
The trucking industry is a key part of the economy, employing millions of people and moving 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight. With the COVID-19 public health crisis, the role of semi-truck drivers is even more important to ensure Americans are receiving the goods they need. However, while these changes allow greater flexibility for experienced truck drivers, they may also encourage inexperienced truck drivers to stay on the road longer – especially with the current increased need for semi-truck drivers. Therefore, semi-truck drivers should always exercise caution to make sure they are not driving fatigued.
Semi-truck accidents can be catastrophic for both the driver and passengers of any vehicle involved. In order to protect the rights of those injured, it’s critical to obtain a skilled and experienced truck accident lawyer who understands these complex semi-truck safety regulations. Our attorneys at Sinas Dramis Law Firm have helped many Michigan families recover the compensation and access the resources they need following a collision with a semi-truck, box truck, or commercial vehicle.