SPECIAL REPORT: New HOS rule reduces flexibility

| 8/22/2005

Truckers who need a two-hour fatigue-busting break will have to take it with the 14-hour clock ticking away thanks to the new hours-of-service regulations.

In the current HOS regs - which expire Sept. 30 - truckers who find themselves in need of a short two-hour break can split time in their sleeper berth and take a rest without affecting their 14-hour on-duty clock.

Teams are also able to cash in on the split sleeper berth rule, implementing five-on-five-off driving schedules - at least until Sept. 30.

Beginning Oct. 1, that flexibility is gone.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Annette Sandberg announced the new hours-of-service regs Friday, Aug. 19. In those new rules, off-duty time can be split four different ways:

  1. 10 consecutive hours of sleeper berth time;
  2. 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time;
  3. A combination of 10 consecutive hours of sleeper berth and off-duty time; or
  4. 10 hours of off-duty time by combining two separate periods of sleeper berth or off-duty time that total at least 10 hours.

As of Oct. 1, if truckers choose to use the fourth option, one period must be at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth off the clock.

The new rules require the second period to be at least two hours, but less than 10, in the sleeper berth, off-duty time or both. The second period may be taken either in or out of the sleeper berth. However, the trick here is the two-hour portion of the split does not stop the 14-hour on-duty clock.

Calculating on-duty and driving time around the split sleeper berth will remain as it is with the current 2003 rule. Drivers will have to consider all driving and on-duty time before and after any portion of the split-sleeper-berth provision.

For example if a trucker comes off a 10-hour break and drives five hours, then takes an eight-hour break in the sleeper berth, he/she will have six more hours of driving time available and three more left on his/her 14-hour clock.

However, if a driver takes the two-hour "off-duty" break after driving those same five hours, he or she will then have six hours left of driving time and only one more hour left on the 14-hour clock. Again, this is because the two-hour "off-duty" period of the sleeper-berth split does not stop the 14-hour on-duty clock.

Once the driver takes the second rest period - either the eight-hour or two-hour break - driving and on-duty time on either side of the second rest period would also need to be totaled to determine the amount of driving and on-duty time remaining after the break.

In the final rule released Friday, Aug. 19, FMCSA said that the majority of studies and science clearly demonstrate that drivers need to have at least one primary sleep period of seven to eight consecutive hours. It is FMCSA's intention that these new requirements ensure that drivers using the sleeper berth provision will have one primary sleeper period sufficient to provide restorative benefits.

At this point, the rulemaking has raised some additional questions and OOIDA has approached FMCSA for clarification.

The newly released regulations will go into effect Oct. 1. There will be a transitional period for the industry to make necessary adjustments to the new rules. This transitional period will end Dec. 31.

- By Jami Jones, staff editor