Drive Time

NSWMA comments on the latest FMCSA driver hours-of-service rules

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released new hours-of-service regulations on Nov. 19. The hours of service rule is one of the most contentious regulations undertaken by FMCSA. Originally established in the late 1930s, these rules remained essentially unchanged for more than five decades.

Then, in 2003, FMCSA lowered the amount of on-duty hours in a 24-hour work cycle from 16 to 14, while increasing drive-time hours from 10 to 11. The revision also included a "restart" provision under which a driver could take 34 consecutive hours of off-duty time and then start a new weekly hours-of-service calendar.

A coalition of safety groups quickly sued FMCSA over the new regulation, in the U.S. Court of Appeals. In 2005, FMCSA issued a revised rule, with more background data supporting its position. This version of the rule survived a lawsuit, with the exceptions of the 11-hour drive-time provision and the 34-hour restart provision. In this second decision, the court ruled that FMCSA had not provided adequate explanation of some of the critical elements supporting these two provisions.

Nevertheless, the court allowed those two provisions to stand because traffic safety officers and commercial drivers had already been trained under the new rules.

This latest rule is FMCSA's attempt to meet the court's requirement for more documentation. Once again, a commercial motor vehicle driver is allowed to drive eleven hours in a 14-hour work day and a driver who has taken 34 hours of continuous time-off from work can restart his or her weekly calendar.

The National Solid Wastes Management Association's (NSWMA) Government Affairs Task Force, supported by its Safety Task Force, has submitted comments each time that FMCSA has issued an hours-of-service proposal. Our comments have stressed the unique requirements we face when collecting trash and recyclables from a wide variety of generators. We were particularly careful to note the importance of the 34-hour restart rule to our industry, especially as it applied to work disruptions caused by federal holidays. FMCSA cited NSWMA's comments in their discussion of the decision to retain the restart provision.

Safety advocacy groups are likely to challenge this latest rule revision in court. However, the additional background information supplied by FMCSA should bolster its case in support of the rule.

FMCSA is working on other regulatory proposals with an impact on this industry. The most important would require installation of electronic on-board recorders on the trucks to track compliance with hours-of-service requirements. NSWMA filed comments with FMCSA, noting that virtually all solid waste and recycling trucks operate under the 100 air-mile rule, allowing the use of time cards to show compliance.

Given the number of trucks in the waste industry, requiring electronic on-board recorders would be prohibitively expensive, not to mention unnecessary considering our industry's compliance record. A final rule, in which the recorders would be required for commercial motor vehicles operated by companies with a history of non-compliance, is likely by mid-winter.

NSWMA takes safety seriously. We actively participate in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an association of state highway agencies that enforce out-of-service requirements. Every year at WasteExpo, NSWMA sponsors a demonstration of an out-of-service inspection of a garbage truck. We also comment on truck safety regulatory proposals to ensure that they are sensible and workable.

If you have any questions about the new hours of service requirements or any aspect of out-of-service requirements, please contact NSWMA's Chaz Miller at 202-364-3742 or