The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has adopted several new regulations that were outlined in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, also known as the FAST Act. Initially proposed in December, the FAST Act is five-year legislation designed to improve America’s infrastructure, as well as address some key trucking safety issues.
While the regulations outlined in the FAST Act are a step forward in strengthening highway safety, they also contain some alarming exemptions from hours of service and record-keeping requirements for certain commercial truck drivers. These requirements are key weapons against truck driver fatigue, which is a serious threat to highway safety and a common cause of serious truck crashes.
What Are the Hours of Service and Record-Keeping Requirements?
Initially adopted in 2011, hours of service (or HOS) regulations govern the working hours for those who operate commercial vehicles in the U.S. These rules cap the number of daily and weekly hours that commercial vehicle operators can spend driving and working, and mandate the minimum amount of time that operators have to spend resting before they can start another driving shift.
HOS requirements are used to combat truck driver fatigue. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics, nearly 4,000 people die every year in truck accidents where driver fatigue is a leading factor. In many of these crashes, truck drivers themselves lose their lives because they were driving tired.
Commercial truck drivers are also required to keep a detailed log of their driving and work duty hours, per FMCSA rules. One of the new rules outlined in the FAST Act calls for most truck drivers to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to track their hours. ELDs strengthen compliance with HOS regulations.
Since 1938, truckers have used pencil and paper to keep track of off-duty /on-duty logs, which are difficult to verify. By using automated technology for logging records, roadside safety inspectors will be able to easily unmask bad actors that violate federal truck safety laws and put lives at risk on America’s roads.
Key Exemptions from FAST Act
The FMCSA issued its final rule on Thursday, implementing FAST Act regulations that make permanent existing exemptions from a key HOS rule—the 30-minute rest break requirement. Commercial truck drivers are required to take a 30-minute rest break within the first eight hours of a shift. This is to help prevent drivers from becoming fatigued in the midst of long hours spent behind the wheel.
Specifically, truck drivers who are hauling ready-mixed concrete are allowed to consider the time spent waiting with the truck at a job site or terminal as meeting the hours-of-service requirement for a 30-minute rest break. These cement truck drivers are not allowed to do any other work while waiting with their truck during this time, the rule states.
The second exemption from the 30-minute rest break was given to truck drivers that transport bees in interstate commerce, provided there are bees on the truck. The third exemption is for truckers transporting livestock while animals are on the truck.
All of the above vehicles, plus hi-rail vehicles, will also be exempt from HOS requirements.
According to TransComply, the final rule also exempts welding trucks that are used in pipeline construction and maintenance from having to comply with FMCSA regulations and extends from two years to five years the length of time that certain truckers’ exemptions will be good for.
In addition to the HOS exemptions, the FMCSA issued a new batch of final rules that overhaul how commercial truckers monitor their hours spent behind the wheel. The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, which is still pending, has been one of the most closely watched FMCSA rules among commercial truckers.
As of Thursday, a small subset of truck drivers will not be required to comply with the ELD mandate. An exemption from the ELD mandate will be provided to truck drivers that transport motor homes or recreational vehicles in a driveaway-towaway operation. These truckers will be able to continue using either paper logging or ELDs if they choose to.
Implications of FAST Act Exemptions
The rules outlined in the FAST Act that address highway safety are steps in the right direction. Any regulation that reduces truck driver fatigue should be considered positive. But these exemptions may be cause for concern.
Driver fatigue is an issue for any truck driver, no matter what they are hauling or who they are working for. When Congress asked for rules to address truck driver fatigue, it did so without saying certain subsets of truckers should be excluded.
Nonetheless, the highway safety rules outlined in the FAST Act signify that the government is taking driver fatigue seriously, as it should.