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Hours of Service and the 34-hour restart: What’s the big deal?

Jul 05, 2016

What are Hours of Service (HOS) rules?

The Hours of Service rules for drivers of property-carrying vehicles spell out exactly when breaks are required and how a daily and weekly duty cycle starts and stops. These rules are designed to increase roadway safety and to prevent or minimize crashes involving trucks. The rule that has been receiving a lot of press, especially over the last couple of years, is the “34-hour restart” rule. The current restart requirements state that a driver must take 34 consecutive hours off-duty to start a new weekly driving cycle. It wasn’t always this way. Continue reading to learn some background about the Hours of Service rules and specifically what’s happening with the 34-hour restart. 

HOS.jpgWhy are they controversial?

Many in the trucking industry feel that the HOS rules aren’t accurate, partly because the rule assumes that truckers drive 11 hours per day or almost 80 hours per week - but those that disagree say it’s simply not the case.

Common complaints heard around the industry concerning the changes to the 34 hour restart in July 2013 include:

  • Carriers having problems with driver availability to carriers
  • Reducing driver productivity by as much as 14%
  • Making scheduling more difficult for drivers when coordinating driving schedules and personal commitments
  • Making compliance to the rules more difficult since they became more complicated when the rule was modified 

They have a history

HOS regulations were initially established in 1937. In 1996 a twelve-year process to update them started. After numerous challenges by various groups and resulting revisions, in November 2008 the new HOS rules were put in place by the FMCSA. There were further suggested changes to driving window, on-duty and limits on restarting weekly hourly accumulations. A new HOS rule was finalized December 2011 including the 34 hour restart provision. In July 2013 the 34 hour restart provision was modified to include 2 requirements:

Two 1 am – 5 am periods had to be included in the 34 hours

And

The 34 hour restart could only be used once per week. 

In December 2014 a bill was signed into law that included the suspension of the two clauses added to the 34 hour restart rule in 2013 until further research was done to determine if it actually contributes to increased safety.

The 2016 DOT-funding bill stated that the suspended regulations will only go back into effect if FMCSA’s study shows the 2013 rules demonstrate a statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity and work schedules when compared to drivers operating under pre-2013 rules. The study results are complete and were submitted for review as of January 2016. They are being reviewed by DOT’s Office of the Inspector General and then will be reviewed by Congress. The FMCSA is hopeful the study will prove that the 2013 rules result in better rest and, therefore, safer drivers. 

The FMCSA study

FMCSA’s study collected data for 5 months on 2 groups of drivers: One abiding by pre-2013 rules and one following 2013 requirements. The agency studied 220 drivers. It studied the drivers’ fatigue levels with alertness tests and by capturing critical event data, such as crashes and near crashes. 

What now?

As of the end of May 2016 no new legislation relating to the 34 hour restart rule has been passed. Will the study determine that the pre-2013 rules are better than the additional 2 clauses put in place in July 2013? Stay tuned…