In August of 2020, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed the Split Duty Period Pilot Program, which would allow temporary regulatory relief from the agency’s hours-of-service requirement for commercial drivers who are carrying cargo. Simply put, the new program modifies the current rule that requires drivers to complete their work within a 14-hour time frame. For participating truck drivers, this would give them the option to put off their 14-hour driving window with an off-duty period lasting between 30 minutes and three hours. Selected drivers will drive an instrumented vehicle with a smartphone that collects data.
According to the FMCSA, the goal of the pilot program is to gather evidence as to whether decisions concerning the timing of this flexibility can be aligned with the scheduling preferences of employers, shippers and receivers to optimize productivity efforts while keeping drivers safe. While American Trucking Associations generally supported the change, safety concerns were voiced by some members who saw the proposal as a way to extend a driver’s workday from 14 to 17 hours, which could significantly increase the risk of a crash. Currently, the pilot program is scheduled to run for up to three years.
New Pilot Program for 2021
In addition to the Split Duty Period Pilot Program, the FMCSA announced in January a proposal for a new Sleeper Birth Pilot Program, also aimed at providing flexibility for commercial drivers while maintaining roadway safety. However, in this new pilot program, the FMCSA will gather data on split-sleeper flexibility, allowing drivers the option to split their 10 hours of sleeper berth time into two time periods, provided each of the periods is at least four hours and the combined time of the two is equal to at least 10 hours. This would give drivers the flexibility to adjust their schedules for longer hauls or to accommodate warehouse hours, by “dropping-in” a rest break that pushes out a 14-hour driving period.
Proponents of the new proposal feel that it will enable drivers using a sleeper berth to get consolidated rest and help reduce driver fatigue and accidents. However, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety expressed opposition to the FMCSA’s proposed pilot program, voicing concerns that the increased flexibility would exacerbate the issue of driver fatigue. According to TheTrucker.com, a leading source for trucking industry news for the long-haul trucking industry, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters stated that the majority of Teamster drivers indicated a preference for more flexibility in the time that they can obtain restorative rest periods.
Carriers and drivers who are interested in participating in these programs must qualify by meeting certain criteria. For example, they must not have an unsatisfactory safety rating, any enforcement actions within the past three years or a driver out-of-service rate that is higher than the national average.
Both programs represent just two of the several HOS reform initiatives by the FMCSA. These pilot programs were specifically structured so the FMCSA can better evaluate the safety impacts of combining several provisions that would provide extensions to the existing on-duty period and the impact the change may have on the enforceability of HOS regulations. And although the collected data can provide key insights into how well HOS regulations are working, it doesn’t guarantee in any way that the agency will move forward with the proposed rulemaking.
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