FMCSA Hours-of-Service Regulations—Where do we stand now?

The Chicago Trucking Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. take note of the ongoing debate over Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) Hour-of-Service regulations. In understanding where we stand now, it may be helpful to first understand a bit regarding the origination of these rules, and how they have developed over the past 8 decades.

In recognizing the correlation between driver fatigue and accident causation, the federal government first began limiting the number of daily and week hours, as well as rest period requirements in the 1930s. Over the next several decades, some revisions were made to the hours-of-service regulations, but many argued that such changes were ineffective in combating the issue of fatigued driving. It was not until recently—first in 2003, and then again in 2005—that any substantial changes to HOS rules were made.

Perhaps most significant, were the 2003 revisions, which introduced the ’34-hour restart rule,’ which allowed drivers to work more than 70 hours in a work week, so long as the driver remained off-duty for 34 consecutive hours. This essentially permitted drivers to ‘restart’ or ‘reset’ their work week by resting for two full nights. Another significant change was made in 2005, which eliminated the previous option for drivers to split their off duty hours, and required them to take a consecutive rest period of at least 8 hours.

Thereafter, the debate over hours-of-service regulations continued, eventually leading to additional revisions, which took effect in 2013. Under the new rules, drivers were limited to only one ‘restart’ per week (168-hour period); and must take two off-duty rest periods, between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., in order to be eligible for the restart.

In implementing these changes, the FMCSA noted that “long daily and weekly hours are associated with an increased risk of crashes and with the chronic health conditions associated with lack of sleep.” In supporting the 1 a.m./5 a.m. requirement, they noted that “those attempting to sleep during the day usually only get 4 to 6 hours of poor quality sleep,” further stating that “drivers who sleep during the day on their days off would not be getting adequate recovery sleep,” and therefore the driver would be “building up sleep debt from week to week.”

While for many, the modifications made in 2013 seemed promising in terms of preventing accidents through reducing issues of driver fatigue, there was very little time to realize the actual impact of these changes, due to recent congressional efforts. In December 2014, less than a year and a half following the rule changes that took effect in July 2013, Congress announced the suspension of certain provisions of the 2013 revisions. Effective December 16, 2013, truck drivers are no longer limited to one restart per every 168-hour period, and no longer required to schedule two rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Keep in mind that this suspension, at least for now, is only temporary, and will continue until ‘at least’ September of 2015. During the suspension period, pursuant to congressional mandate, the FMCSA must conduct a study on the safety, health, operational, and fatigue impacts of both the pre- and post- 2013 versions of the ‘restart’ rule. Hopefully this research will provide more insight on how to regulate commercial trucks in a manner that does not place an undue burden or overly impede upon the rights of the trucking industry, but that effectively addresses the core issue at hand—preventing fatigue-related truck accidents.

If you were injured, or a loved one was killed, as a result of a collision involving a semi-tractor trailer, big-rig, or other large truck, knowing your legal rights and options is the first step to obtaining financial compensation. Contact the Chicago Trucking Accident Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer P.C. to schedule your FREE, no-obligation consultation, at 773-516-4100, and allow us to go to work on your behalf in obtaining the justice that you and your family deserve.