The trucking industry prides itself on its resilience and adaptability. Nothing demonstrates this more than its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the face of rising health concerns, the trucking industry worked with shippers, consignees, law enforcement and health experts to keep our country moving. Carriers and drives adopted new protocols to reduce exposure to this deadly virus like electronic shipping documents, new delivery restrictions, and the increased use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
In fact, whenever the trucking industry is faced with a change, it responds by reevaluating its procedures to operate as efficiently as possible, while remaining safe and in compliance. Examples include new regulations like the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners’ rule which resulted in carriers applying greater scrutiny to the driver health, whether by adopting stronger health and wellness programs or conducting voluntary obstructive sleep apnea screening. With the implementation of the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse came a greater focus on what constitutes a strong testing program. The implementation of the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate is another great example. As carriers adopted ELDs they scrutinized their operations to discover and adapt to inefficiencies that weren’t apparent on paper logs.
The latest round of changes to the Hours of Service rules is no different. As carriers unpack the new flexibilities provided under the rule changes that were effective in late September 2020, they are examining their operations to discover when and how to apply these changes to improve their operations while ensuring fleet safety.
What the Expanded Short-Haul Exception is All About
The updated hours of service rules are highlighting the need for a renewed understanding of the foundation of the Hours of Service rules and how they should be applied.
One of the most prominent examples has been carrier and driver use of the expanded short haul exception to the hours of service recordkeeping rules (49 C.F.R. §395.1(e)(1)). The new short-haul rules significantly expanded the applicability of the exception.
Previously, drivers qualified for the exception if they did not operate outside of a 100 air-mile radius and returned to their normal work reporting location and were released from duty within 12 hours. Now, drivers can operate up to 150 air-miles from their normal work reporting location and must be released from duty within 14 hours, not 12. If they meet these criteria, drivers do not need to keep a record of their driving and working hours using a traditional logbook or ELD. Instead, a simple timecard-esque recordkeeping system suffices.
Understanding the Benefit of the Short-Haul Exception
Unfortunately, early evidence is revealing that some carriers and drivers have a misunderstanding of the intended benefit of the short-haul exception. When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented the short haul exception, they did so with a recognition that short-haul drivers often make many stops in a day, complicating recordkeeping. FMCSA also recognized that multiple stops during a shift reduced time on the driving task and, therefore, the potential for cumulative fatigue associated with long hours driving. FMCSA did not, however, intend to exempt these drivers from the whole of the hours of service rules, meaning the 11-hour driving limit still applies.
To be sure, the 100 air-mile and 12-hour restrictions made it far less likely that a driver would violate the 11-hour driving limit. This may have resulted in carriers and drivers misunderstanding the exception as an exemption all of the hours of service rules, much like the agriculture exception (49 C.F.R. §395.1(k)).
Early evidence since late September 2020 is highlighting this misunderstanding as some short-haul drivers appear to be violating the 11-hour driving limit. These drivers may not even know they’re violating the rules because they’re not keeping detailed records and are most concerned with returning to their home terminal within 14 hours. These carriers and drivers may be in for a rude awakening should the enforcement community reveal the error, to the detriment of both the carrier and driver. Those taking advantage of the new Hours of Service flexibility should continue to evaluate their operations with an eye toward compliance.
As with any significant rule change, the industry is currently in a period of evaluation with an eye toward efficiency, productivity and safety. Like the Medical Examiner Registry, the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse, and ELD rules before it, the Hours of Services rules are being met with a period of rediscovery and scrutiny. Time and time again, the trucking industry has proven itself resilient and adaptable. These new rule changes will be no different. Truck on!
For more information about the short-haul exception or other FMCSA regulations, contact Trimble today to learn more about how these rules may impact your fleet and your drivers.