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FMCSA testing truck drivers to pause 14-hour on-duty limit

The FMCSA is planning to test the effects of letting commercial truck drivers “pause” their 14-hour on-duty limit by up to 3 hours per day.

The agency is hoping to enlist up to 400 drivers to participate in its three-year “Split Duty Period Pilot Program.” Participants would be allowed to use one off-duty break of between 30 minutes and 3 hours to pause the 14-hour driving window, as long as they take 10 consecutive hours off duty at the end of the day. The pause should enable drivers to reduce fatigue, avoid congestion, reduce the pressure to speed, and be more productive, the FMCSA says.

14-hour window closes fast

Normally, short breaks taken during a driver’s day must be subtracted from the driver’s 14-consecutive-hour window during which driving is allowed.

For more information, see our ezExplanation on the 14-hour on-duty rule.

Under new rules in effect on September 29, 2020, some truck drivers can pause their 14-hour limit with a break of 2 hours or more, but only if they also spend at least 7 hours in a sleeper berth (see below). Under the pilot program, drivers could pause the clock with off-duty time alone, without the need for a sleeper berth. This idea was proposed back in 2019 but didn’t find its way into the recent rule changes because the FMCSA didn’t have enough data to justify it.

Reg changes are a long way off

As required by law, the FMCSA is gathering public input on the proposal until November 2nd. It will then decide whether to implement the program. After the program concludes, the agency will need to report to Congress on its findings before it could proceed with any changes to the hours-of-service regulations.

Participation in the pilot program would be limited to between 200 and 400 commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders from companies of all sizes, with each driver participating for up to one year. Motor carriers that want to enroll in the program will need to apply via an FMCSA website which could be available late this year. Comments on the proposal may be submitted online at www.regulations.gov under docket number FMCSA-2020-0098.

Drivers can pause the 14-hour clock today

Truck drivers who fall under the federal hours-of-service rules can already pause their 14-hour clock with a short rest break, as of September 29, 2020 (see log image). This is known as the “split sleeper-berth” option, and it works like this:

  • The driver must take a break of at least 2 consecutive hours sometime during the day.
  • The break must be spent off duty or in a sleeper berth (or using a combination of the two).
  • The time before and after the break cannot include any driving after the 11th hour of driving or after the 14th hour of time. The break itself can be excluded from the 14-hour calculation (i.e., it “pauses” the clock).
  • The driver must have another break of at least 7 consecutive hours spent entirely in a sleeper berth, sometime before or after (but not necessarily connected with) the shorter break.
  • The two breaks together must add up to at least 10 hours (for example: 3 7, 2 8, 2 9, 2.5 7.5, etc.).

Key to remember: The FMCSA plans to test the safety of allowing truck drivers to pause their 14-hour clock with a rest break of up to 3 hours, even if they don’t have a sleeper berth. The pilot program could open later this year.