FMCSA denies exemptions for drivers traveling with pets

Federal regulators have denied a request by the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) to ease regulations for drivers traveling with their pets.

In a document to be published in the federal register Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) asserted that after assessing SBTC’s petition and subsequent comments that the agency couldn’t ensure safety levels would be maintained if it were to approve the request.

SBTC had been seeking an exemption from both the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate and the hours-of-service (HOS) requirements, asking that drivers with pet companions be allowed to drive up to 13 hours during a work shift and to operate within a 16-hour window, which extends beyond the current driving limits.

“Drivers need to drive slower — rather than race the clock — when animals are on board to prevent injuries, especially when negotiating rough roads, so they need more than the normal hours of service to complete their runs,” SBTC contended in its petition filed earlier this year.

“When drivers have an extended day beyond the 14-hour rule, they can take more breaks, feed, relieve and exercise their pets and reduce the likelihood that they will drive fatigued. This additional two hours will reduce the current trend in large truck occupant fatalities, improve overall safety, which is clearly in the public interest, and save the lives of thousands of animals not currently being included in the large truck occupant fatality statistic by [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration]. We suggest animals count too.”

FMCSA acknowledged that close to 80% of the 165 comments favored the exemption. However, in support of its decision to deny SBTC’s request, FMCSA emphasized comments from several groups, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).

“FMCSA approval of this application would, in essence, apply an overbroad category of exempted individuals to an insufficiently defined class of exemption,” noted ATA. “Despite some research that shows how domestic animals can improve driver feelings of companionship and, anecdotally, safety, SBTC’s application does not support the agency’s obligation of ensuring an equivalent or greater level of safety than exists under the current regulation.”

According to CVSA, if the agency were to approve SBTC’s request, the additional driving and on-duty time “will expose drivers to a greater risk of fatigue, putting themselves and the public at risk and the ELD exemption would make adherence to the hours-of-service rules much more difficult to verify. The hours-of-service framework is put in place to prevent this type of excessive driving that causes fatigue.”

FMCSA also asserted that SBTC failed to offer countermeasures “to ensure an equivalent or greater level of safety than would be achieved under compliance with the current rules.”

In addition, revisions to the HOS rules that went into effect on Sept. 29 to add more flexibility for drivers did not allow drivers additional driving time beyond the current 11-hour limit or the 14-hour duty day, it stated.

“None of the final rule provisions increases the maximum allowable driving time, as the available data does not support any additional driving time.”

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