Since you’re reading this, there’s probably a good chance you are paying attention to the process recently started by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to consider changes to the hours of service rules. And, if you’ve been in trucking for a number of years, you’re also well aware of how long it can take FMCSA, and other federal regulatory agencies, to make changes to important rules affecting the industry. This time, on this topic, it may well turn out to be different.
Hours of Service Timeline for Potential Changes
FMCSA Administrator, Ray Martinez, and FMCSA Chief Safety Officer, Jack Van Steenburg, recently spoke separately and in harmony about the HOS change process at different meetings during last month’s American Trucking Associations (ATA) 2018 Management Conference & Exhibition. And, both addressed the timeline for potential changes.
On Oct. 27, 2018, Administrator Martinez—only 9 months in his role as the head of FMCSA—commented that agency staff suggested to him that the change process could take 3-4 years. In his remarks to the general audience, he seemed to dismiss that timeline, and told the ATA attendees that if FMCSA decides to move forward with HOS changes, they would be made far sooner. In fact, he stated, “the pressure is on us,” suggesting to me that his boss, USDOT Secretary Chao, may have established an aggressive timeline for decision making and potential action on this issue.
On Oct. 29, 2018, two days later at the ATA conference, Chief Safety Officer Van Steenburg, commented in his remarks that FMCSA is, indeed, undertaking an expedited process on potential HOS changes. Van Steenburg stated that potential HOS changes have been “prioritized by the Secretary…prioritized by the FMCSA Administrator” and, as a result, FMCSA’s “hours of service team meets daily.” Mr. Van Steenburg then went one step further and stated, “we’re going to address it.”
Moving Into the Rulemaking Process
Taken together, the comments by FMCSA’s leadership seem to make clear the Agency intends to move to the next stage of the rulemaking process, and soon. That is, FMCSA seems likely to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking with specific, regulatory change proposals for public comment, perhaps as soon as early 2019.
Having been involved in trucking and HOS issues for years (in both government and industry, and through Republican- and Democrat-led Administrations), I’m tempted to make a prediction or two on what changes we might see from this Administration. I will resist that temptation. However, I cannot help but ponder whether FMCSA’s recent decision to cancel its long-planned 2019 “flexible sleeper berth pilot program” suggests proposed changes may be coming to the rule provision allowing drivers to split off-duty time in a sleeper berth.
By Dave Osiecki, President of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC – November 2018
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