( File photo )

Opening the door for truckers to go “off the clock” for up to three hours when faced with delays in loading or unloading, new proposed rules on hours of service regulations were welcomed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration day published a 129-page notice of proposed rulemaking Aug. 14 on changes to hours of service rules. Public comments on the proposal will be accepted for 45 days, according to the agency, after which a final rule is expected to be developed.

One proposed change to hours of service regulations would be 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.

That would help drivers preserve driving time while waiting to be loaded  or unloaded by produce shippers and receivers.

Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said in a news release the proposed rule changes are a “positive start,” since truckers don’t have any control over their schedules or traffic conditions.

Spencer said truckers are expected to comply with hours of service regulations while meeting the needs of shippers and receivers that are often unaware of those rules. Spencer said in the release that reports on delays show that it’s common for drivers to wait for 30 to 40 hours per week to be loaded or unloaded by customers.

“We have pushed for flexibility in hours of service regulations for years, long before the current Administration,” Spencer said in the release. “We thank Administrator Ray Martinez for his commitment to the issue and for listening to those that actually drive trucks for a living.”

Industry input

Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, said United Fresh is pleased that the FMSCA has moved forward with the proposed reforms.  
"Based on our early analysis they will be helpful to enhance flexibility for drives to comply with new Hours of Service Rules while continuing to enhance safety for everyone on the road," Guenther said in an email.

In response to the two recent notices for comment FMCSA released – one on potential revisions or clarifications of the definitions of “agricultural commodity” in the HOS regulations (Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0348) and the other on proposed amendments to HOS requirements (Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0248) – Western Growers vice president of federal government affairs Dennis Nuxoll issued this statement:

“Though Western Growers is still actively reviewing the two notices for comment recently released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, we are particularly pleased with the efforts to address the definition of ‘non-processed.’ HOS regulations and guidance as currently written don’t completely reflect the unique nature of how fresh produce is often packaged and marketed today. As such, items like baby carrots or bagged salad mixes may be treated differently than whole carrots or whole heads of lettuce under the agricultural exemptions."

Nuxoll continued, “Western Growers has also advocated for HOS flexibility at the ‘last mile’ and unloading periods. Delays due to harvesting schedules and traffic are obviously not uncommon for our industry, so there should be more consideration for this type of unpredictability that may keep drivers on-duty, but not actively driving. We’re reviewing closely how FMSCA’s most recent proposal addresses this."
“We appreciate FMCSA continuing to work with the fresh produce industry to address remaining our concerns about the HOS/ELD requirements. Ensuring the safe and timely transport of our members’ products is a priority for us, and we look forward to working with FMCSA as these processes move forward," Nuxoll said.”