The government regulates the commercial transport industry to ensure the safety of truck drivers. As times, technology, and administrations change, so do these laws. If you’re beginning a commercial driver’s license (CDL) program, learning more about the industry’s new regulations will help you prepare for the test while staying informed on possible upcoming changes will help you stay ahead of the curve.
What Laws Must Truck Drivers Follow In 2021?
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted people’s lifestyles and careers. There was an increased need for food, appliances, and sundries. In turn, doctors and hospitals needed more medicine, diagnostic equipment, and related devices. Truck drivers were on the frontline, providing what the country needed when it needed it most. By adapting to market demands, the industry experienced a boom period. As Supply Train noted, COVID-19 has also resulted in driver shortages. To protect current drivers and attract new ones, the government has enacted COVID-19-related regulations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supported passing a law that requires truckers to wear masks while traveling or at transportation hubs. The law is comprehensive, including truckers on any intrastate, interstate, and international routes.
Truckers can only allow masked passengers and crew to enter their vehicles. The mask should cover both their face and nose. According to the law, the truck driver must remind unmasked individuals of the mandate. If they don’t comply, they should alert proper management.
New COVID-19-related paid sick leave laws are also in effect from the Department of Labor (DOL). Federal mandates require eligible trucking companies to provide paid family or sick leave. The duration can last up to 10 weeks, depending on the circumstances. The trucker must seek a diagnosis, have orders to quarantine by a physician, or be in the process of receiving treatment to be eligible for the leave. The DOL noted that the driver would receive their full pay during leave, or 2/3 their full pay if they’re taking care of a loved one who has COVID-19 symptoms.
To ensure they receive permission, drivers must request leave from their employer and agree on the conditions.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) consistently adopts new policies to improve truckers’ quality of life. A consistent area for change has always been the Hours of Service (HOS) drivers must commit to. According to the FMCSA, truckers can drive for 11 hours after 10 consecutive off-duty hours. They can’t be on duty for more than 14 consecutive after 10 off-duty hours. Any time spent off-duty doesn’t extend the driver’s 14-hour window.
Truckers can now take 30-minute breaks after 8 cumulative driving hours if they haven’t had a half-hour-long interruption during their on-duty hours. These 30-minute breaks cannot involve driving. Truckers can use their on-duty time to catch up on paperwork or use their off-duty time to relax in the sleeper berth. These breaks must be 30 consecutive minutes to ensure the safety of drivers.
CDL drivers also have more flexibility with their 10 off-duty hours. Truck drivers can split them, provided one period is at least 2 hours long. However, the other off-duty period must have at least 7 consecutive sleeper berth hours. When paired, the split off-duty hours must always add up to nothing less than 10. New drivers should also note that these combined periods won’t count against the 14-hour window.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) produced new regulations to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase fuel efficiency. The standards embrace new technology when manufacturing medium- and heavy-duty trucks in 2021, 2024, and 2027 model years. While the cost of these vehicles will temporarily increase, trucker job stability won’t be affected. The EPA reports vehicle owners will end up saving a combined $170 billion.
The FMSCA instituted higher qualifying standards for students earning their CDL. The Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) regulations impact individuals obtaining a Class A or Class B license. They also affect drivers who are switching from Class B to Class A. Under the new guidelines, truckers must complete 31 course topics and meet 19 behind-the-wheel skills.
While the standards may seem overwhelming, trucking schools remain highly accessible. Depending on the program, students can earn a CDL in 6 to 22 weeks. Comparatively, a bachelor’s degree takes at least four years to complete. During that time, students have limited earning capabilities due to dedicated studying. Even after earning a four-year degree, most college graduates have debts between $28,950 and $292,169, according to NerdWallet. Trucking schools are more cost-effective. They are also further open to scholarships, grants, and financial aid options.
Are There Any Exceptions to Current Trucking Laws?
Previously, truckers were limited to their standard HOS due to adverse weather conditions. Now, they can take a break and allow the weather to pass. In these instances, they can drive up to two additional hours beyond an 11-hour shift. This will enhance the driver’s safety while allowing them to maintain their schedule.
According to Smart Trucking, drivers operate between 100 and 500 miles of their employer’s location, depending on if they’re on local or regional routes. These drivers enjoy both the freedom of the open road and extra time at home with loved ones. Short-haul truckers also have the same job security as long-haul truckers since the runs are cost-effective and lucrative for carriers.
Given the smaller working radius, the FMCSA provides short-haul truckers with new exemptions. There are no log books to maintain and no mandatory 30-minute rest break for drivers operating in a maximum of 150 miles of their reporting carrier. Previously, the exemption only covered drivers within 100 working miles. They also can’t exceed the 14-hour duty period.
However, short-haul drivers using the FMCSA’s §395.1(e)(1) regulations must return to their reporting location within 14 consecutive hours.
What Possible Future Laws May Impact the Trucking Industry?
1. New Pilot Programs
The FMCSA is constantly fighting to give truck drivers more freedom and opportunities. Currently, two pilot programs may become active laws. The first would allow interstate runs for 18 to 20-year-old truckers with military driving experience. This change will increase opportunities and earning potential for young drivers.
Overdrive Online reports that the second is called the “Split Duty Period Pilot Program.” The test was conducted in August 2020, and the FMCSA is still compiling data on the results. If the program is successful, truckers will have a one-time pause per day in their 14-hour shift to be completely off-duty. The pause can be between 30 minutes and 3 hours. Once the work period is complete, drivers still must take 10 consecutive off-duty hours.
2. Sleep Apnea Screenings
The FMCSA doesn’t have specific sleep apnea protocols. While it’s not a disqualifying factor, it is a condition that can impact a driver’s ability to operate a tractor-trailer safely. People with apnea, or drivers who later develop it, would not be medically cleared by the FMCSA. While there is no cure for sleep apnea, the Mayo Clinic notes that treatments have a high success rate. Once treated, the truck driver will have their “medically-qualified-to-drive” status reinstated.
In the coming years, the FMCSA may specifically screen for sleep apnea during the CDL process. If a driver has the condition, they will be given a treatment guideline to ensure they can still earn their license in a timely manner.
3. Speed Limiter Devices
The trucking industry is embracing more technological conveniences. Electronic logging devices (ELD) help keep drivers orientated on the road. Automated, contactless deliveries are now becoming more common in response to COVID-19, which increases efficiency for everyone. With an increasing focus on modernity, the FMCSA may again try to pass a proposal for speed limiting devices. They regulate the fuel delivered to the engine and calculate how much is needed to exceed a specific speed. If the driver attempts to speed in excess, the device will prevent the fuel from reaching the engine.
In 2016, the FMCSA’s proposal called for installing the devices, with suggested speed caps between 60 and 68 MPH. While the legislature didn’t gain much momentum with the previous administration, the FMCSA might attempt to pass it again.
Changes in trucking industry legislation can occur often. At first, learning and adapting to these regulations can be difficult. To better understand what’s expected, reach out to Hamrick School. For 40 years, this trucking school has provided comprehensive support to prepare students for life on the road. Their career-specific CDL training program provides behind-the-wheel and classroom instruction. Your teachers are passionate and well-experienced in the industry. They also maintain small classes for a customized learning experience. Once you pass your CDL, they will help you land your first position as a full-time truck driver. For more information on their financial aid and veterans’ services, visit their website. To enroll in their day or night classes, call their Medina, OH, office at (330) 239-2229.
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