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DOT and OMB mulling changes to trucker drive time regulations

Currently, 49 CFR 395.3(a) requires any driver of a commercial motor vehicle engaged in interstate transport to alternate between a minimum of 10 consecutive “off-duty” hours of rest and a maximum of 11 hours of drive time within the following 14 “on-duty” hours, with a 30 minute break in the “on-duty” time. However, a number of trucker and trucking company advocacy groups have requested reconsideration of these rules, and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) has met with several of these groups to discuss changes, including TruckerNation on May 10, the National Pork Producers Council on May 15, the American Trucking Associations on May 17, and the National Waste & Recycling Association on July 15.

The Associated Press reported on July 1 that the Transportation Department was moving to relax the drive-time regulations and OMB was in the process of reviewing proposed changes. There is currently no further information on how exactly the rules would change. However, materials from the May 10 meeting with OMB show that TruckerNation is proposing a change that would allow truckers to split their 10 “off-duty” rest hours into multiple breaks of at least 3 hours, which would allow truckers more flexibility to schedule their “on-duty” time and eliminate the need for the 30-minute break.

Changes to these regulations could have two primary consequences. First, the changes could create a more diverse range of times and schedules in which truck drivers are on the road. This would have a broad impact on company logistics and could transform traffic flow along congested trucking routes.

Second, the changes could have a substantial effect on the legal analysis underlying trucking accident cases. In trucking accident cases, compliance with or violation of rules involving trucker safety may be used as evidence that a trucker or trucking company is negligent. Plaintiff’s firms are notorious for scouring laws and regulations to identify any minute violation, regardless of whether that violation is related to the accident, to present at trial (the so-called “reptile theory” of personal injury actions).

So, for example, let’s assume the new rules allow truck drivers to split their off-time into multiple breaks but require the driver to keep careful track of on-duty and off-duty time throughout a day to ensure that each break is at least 3 hours long. Then, let’s assume a truck driver makes a 2-hour long rest stop followed by a drive stint, followed by an 8-hour rest, followed by more drive time.  In this scenario, even though the total “break” time may have been 10 hours, the first 2-hour stop didn’t count for regulatory purposes and the proceeding drive time may be in violation of the new regulation. If the truck driver were to then get in an accident, that could potentially be used against either the trucking company or the truck driver as evidence of negligence. Thus, trucking companies would need to be cognizant of the new regulations and have a system in place to ensure compliance.

As you can see, changes to the rules and regulations that introduce more flexibility to the system may also create more complexity and uncertainty in interpretation. That is why it is essential for trucking companies to keep apprised of the latest rules, and, should an accident occur, immediately contact an attorney well versed in the latest regulatory updates. If you have questions about this article, or any other trucking and transportation issues, contact Matthias Kaseorg at (804-377-1273) mkaseorg@setlifflaw.com or Steve Setliff at (804-377-1261) ssetliff@setlifflaw.com.