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Industry Players Raise Concerns About Driver Coercion During HOS Listening Session

FreightWaves

The issue of driver coercion came up more than once at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) first public listening session regarding proposed changes to existing hours of service (HOS) regulations for drivers.

FreightWaves Washington Correspondent John Gallagher examined the proposed updates in detail last week. The updates include: 

  • Increasing flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by tying the break requirement to eight hours of driving time without an interruption for at least 30 minutes, and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty.
  • Modifying the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: one period of at least seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth; and the other period of not less than two consecutive hours, either off duty or in the sleeper berth. According to the proposal, neither period would count against the driver's 14‑hour driving window.
  • Allowing one off-duty break of at least 30 minutes, but not more than three hours, that would pause a truck driver's 14-hour driving window, provided the driver takes 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift.
  • Modifying the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • Changing the short-haul exception by lengthening the drivers' maximum on‑duty period from 12 hours to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

Multiple people who spoke during the listening session praised the flexibility of the proposed changes but expressed concern about the potential for carriers, shippers or brokers to coerce drivers into operating in unsafe conditions.

"Without language in the final regulatory text that explicitly states that the use of the proposed provisions are at the driver's discretion, this leaves a wide open door for driver coercion," TruckerNation Director of Communications Andrea Marks said. "The only person making safety decisions on the road is the driver."

Marks noted that drivers can feel pressured to drive longer than they feel is safe by dispatchers, carriers, shippers or brokers trying to beat the clock. She said some of that could be eliminated if FMCSA gave the power to the drivers to decide how to operate within the new regulations, effectively disallowing other pieces of the supply chain from making rest decisions for drivers.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) Executive Vice President Lewie Pugh also spoke to the issue during the listening session. Drivers have been prompted to report coercion issues to the National Consumer Complaint Database (NCCDB) in the past, but Pugh said he could not recall a time when any issue reported to that database was investigated. He acknowledged the FMCSA has little power over the actions of shippers and brokers, but he urged the officials to address coercion by carriers by paying more attention to the database.

"There has never been any action on any of them that we know," Pugh said. "We hope there will be action taken against a carrier that would do that a driver."

Several commenters, including Pugh, also asked the government officials to consider allowing drivers to split their mandatory 30-minute breaks into multiple chunks throughout the day. This approach would allow drivers to take shorter, more frequent breaks.

"On the 30-minute break, we would like to see it go away," Pugh said. "If it is not going to go away, why can't they break that up into two 15-minute breaks or a 10-minute break and a 20-minute break? Wouldn't it be better if they took three 10-minute breaks or two 15-minute breaks?"

This sentiment was expressed multiple times throughout the session, with most commenters focusing in on health and safety concerns. They said drivers have stopped taking several short breaks throughout the day to decompress and walk around because they are now required to take the longer 30-minute break too.

"I think we should be able to split it up," Rich McCormick, a 25-year veteran truck driver, said. "Sometimes I will stop for 15 minutes and then when I get closer to the eight hours, I have to take another 30-minute break."

McCormick said his time during that 30-minute break is wasted because he already used the restroom and got a meal during his shorter breaks.

The listening session was held at the Great American Trucking Show (GATS) in Dallas, Texas on August 23. Another session will be held at the Department of Transportation Media Center in Washington, D.C. next month. The details of that session will be announced closer to the event.

Comments will be accepted on the proposed changes through early October. Click here for more information or directions on how to make a comment.

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