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Understanding the New 30-Minute Break Rule

Roughly two years in the making, the new federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules have arrived. They could provide drivers with a lot more flexibility — and productivity — if applied correctly. In particular, the changes to the 30-minute break rule could have a big impact on regional and long-haul drivers. Before using the new rule, however, drivers must understand how and when it applies and how to implement it properly.

Changes Bring More Flexibility

Under the current rule, a 30-minute rest break is required in order to drive a CMV after going 8 consecutive hours without a break. Drivers must be off duty and/or in a sleeper berth for their breaks.

Under the new rule, a 30-minute break from driving is only required after accumulating 8 hours of driving time if the driver will continue to drive a CMV after the break. As a result of the change, a break will be needed only by those who drive a CMV more than 8 hours per workday. Fewer drivers, therefore, will need the break to remain in compliance, which could reduce violations.

Because drivers are allowed to remain on duty (not driving) for their breaks, they may also gain productivity. Anything besides driving a CMV will count as a valid break, meaning drivers can continue to perform other work activities. Time spent loading or unloading, fueling, doing vehicle inspections or paperwork, or engaging in other work activities will all count as a break.

In addition, many drivers will have the flexibility to shift their breaks to a later point in the workday (after 8 driving hours rather than 8 consecutive hours after starting the workday).

Some segments of the industry already have a special exemption allowing them to remain on duty for their breaks, such as haulers of explosives or ready-mix concrete. Those exemptions will no longer be necessary.

Points Worth Considering

Driving while fatigued will still be prohibited, making off-duty rest breaks an important option for many drivers. If a driver is fatigued and needs to take a break, even if he or she has more driving time available under the new rule, a supervisor may not require the driver to continue driving. Doing so could be considered harassment under §390.36, which is illegal.

While the new rule offers more flexibility, drivers must still be prepared to take breaks as necessary. For instance, parking shortages will not be an excuse to violate the rule. To ensure compliance, drivers should not wait until they drive nearly 8 hours before seeking a place to stop for their break from driving.

Company policies may also still require drivers to log off duty for their breaks, even though they are no longer required to by law. In addition, there is no requirement to add notes to a log or ELD to indicate which break was used to comply with the break rule. Such notes are optional.

The Bottom Line

Drivers who decide to take advantage of this change will need to make sure they understand how the rule is structured and how to determine when a 30-minute break is required. Though it offers increased flexibility and productivity, the new rule may also put drivers at risk if they push themselves too far. When considering whether to implement the change, it’s important to ensure that safety is the central concern.

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