FMCSA unveils new hours-of-service rule

May 1, 2003
AFTER holding eight public hearings, conducting three round-table sessions to solicit comments, and reviewing more than 53,000 written comments, the Federal

AFTER holding eight public hearings, conducting three round-table sessions to solicit comments, and reviewing more than 53,000 written comments, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has released information on a new hours-of-service rule.

“At first blush, it would appear that FMCSA officials have done an excellent job in balancing the concerns of fatigue management and tank truck productivity,” says Cliff Harvison, National Tank Truck Carriers president. “It also appears, by reading the lengthy preamble, that they have been very careful in assuring that all elements of the final rule are research based. Anyone challenging the basic conclusions in the rule will have a steep hill to climb.

“For tank truck carriers who do a lot of seasonal work, the 34-hour restart provision should give them increased operational flexibility and productivity from their most experienced drivers.”

Beginning January 4, 2004, drivers will be allowed to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off-duty as a result of the new hours-of-service rule. FMCSA released the information April 24.

Drivers may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on-duty, following 10 hours off-duty. Similar to existing rules, drivers may not drive after being on-duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted whenever a driver takes at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty, according to FMCSA.

Rules for the driver's daily log remain unchanged. Those drivers operating within a 100 air-mile radius of their normal work location, who return to that location and are released from duty within 12 hours, will keep time cards as allowed under the current rules.

Short-haul truck drivers, those drivers who routinely return to their place of dispatch after each duty tour and then are released from duty, may have an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period.

FMCSA estimates that without the extra two on-duty hours, the industry would be required to hire at least 48,000 additional drivers, actually reducing crash-reduction benefits.

The president of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) has voiced approval of the new regulation. “This is a package that our members can work with,” says Bill Graves. “We have worked hard all along for a rule that is a good mixture of common sense and sound science.”

The rule is the first substantial change in the hours-of-service rules since 1939, according to FMCSA. In addition, the agency plans to expand its research initiative on electronic onboard recorders and other technologies, including evaluating alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use to ensure hours-of-service recordkeeping and compliance.

While FMCSA has concluded that the safety and economic data needed to justify the recorder requirement in the final rule are not available at this time, there are several technologies that offer significant promise.

The hours-of-service rule currently in effect allows 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period after eight hours of off-duty time. Also, drivers may not drive after their 15th hour on duty in a workday or after 60 hours on-duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on-duty in eight consecutive days.

The regulation governs drivers of commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, and operating vehicles transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring vehicle placards.

Vehicles used in oil-field operations, ground-water well-drilling operations, utility service, and transporting construction materials and equipment retain the 24-hour restart provision provided by the National Highway System Designation Act.

Agricultural operations will retain their current statutory exemption from driving time requirements when occurring within a 100 air-mile radius of a farm or distribution point during planting and harvesting seasons.

To see more information about the 68-page rule, go to the FMCSA Web site at