Speaking to the gathering of the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association last week in Charlotte, N.C., while digging in on the view that the ELD mandate is a safety-positive rule, FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen made it clear he believed the flawed rigidity of the current hours of service regulations needs modification to benefit drivers.

And he assured the assembled that the agency was moving forward with a final rule on hours of service that would make those modifications.

Jim mullen speaking at the specialized transportation symposium

Mullen’s talk at the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association’s symposium ranged over a multitude of topics, from ongoing work on the CSA program to plaintiff’s lawyers’ domination of FOIA requests to the agency in fishing expeditions for adverse data on fleets unlucky enough to be involved in an accident, regardless of fault.

When I spoke briefly with Mullen directly after his talk (take a listen to the majority of it in players above and below), he said he couldn’t speak to the particulars of the next phase of the hours of service reforms process yet. FMCSA last August, still under the direction of former Administrator Ray Martinez, proposed an hours overhaul that would allow drivers to pause their 14-hour clock for up to three hours to go off-duty, among other changes.

Mullen last week said he couldn’t offer details on the stage at which work on the proposed rule currently sits, whether still with FMCSA or at review stage in the office of DOT Secretary Elaine Chao. We’ll know it’s getting close, at least, when it makes the stage at which the White House Office of Management and Budget reviews the rule before publication. Officially, at that stage a rule’s supposed to be processed over the course of 90 days. (With this and other administrations in recent memory, however, those official deadlines have often enough been ignored.)

I’m inclined to view Mullen’s appearance at the SC&RA symposium as a positive for many owner-operators’ desires when it comes to potential changes, given that association’s stance on split sleeper modifications. As I wrote last fall, the Specialized Carriers were among few associations to advocate specifically for opening up off-duty split opportunities up to 6/4 and even 5/5, which would come close to reverting hours rules to pre-14-hour-rule regs, a choice a 20 percent of owner-operators in polling last year on wishes for an hour revision, just before the FMCSA’s proposal to open it up to a 7/3 split was announced.

As Mullen put it in his talk, and about as specific as he got there: “We understand drivers need the flexibility to be as safe as they can. It’s clear the rigid rules do not work. We’re going to go forward with a final regulation.” Take a listen:

Mullen also trumpeted the agency’s efforts to promote the true safety-plus image of trucking as we know it via public awareness campaigns aimed at promoting safe four-wheeler practices around trucks, with assistance from the pros. Such efforts could help stem the tide of so-called “nuclear verdicts,” he speculated, though the agency has no regulatory jurisdiction of course over the course. Such verdicts in civil litigation have been increasingly sought by ambulance-chasing lawyers from carriers large and small unlucky enough to be involved in most any crash, whether at fault or not.

Along the way, too, Mullen revealed viewpoints on other trucking subjects, including the CSA program, that some owner-operators will at the least find familiar, if not always deserving of praise.

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