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Specialized carriers get split decision on HOS exemptions

Drivers operating mobile cranes with a rated lifted capacity of greater than 30 tons will now be exempt from the 30-minute rest break provision of the hours-of-service regulations, but the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has rejected the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association's bid for an exemption from the 14-hour window for driving.

SC&RA requested relief from both HOS provisions in a February 2016 application, arguing that it is difficult to find parking for cranes and that the workday of a crane operator is unpredictable due to changing weather conditions and state and local restrictions on the hours of the day and even days of the week that cranes may move on public roads.

In rejecting the exemption from the 14-hour rule, FMCSA said that "the absence of this limit would allow drivers to operate without any restriction on the length of their duty day. The risk that safety would deteriorate in the absence of this requirement is high. While we agree that the 30-minute break rule is unnecessarily restrictive for operators of large mobile cranes, the 14-hour window is far less restrictive. It is a critical factor in containing fatigue that might otherwise develop. The 14-hour rule is a limit that should be built into the planning of mobile crane operations."

The exemption from the 30-minute rest break was fairly routine as FMCSA had already approved SC&RA's application for such relief for qualifying drivers operating certain large and heavy vehicles that require an oversize/overweight permit issued by a state or local government. The exemption applies to an estimated 65,000 mobile crane operators, according to SC&RA estimates.

"The unpredictable workday of a mobile-crane operator, with its frequent interruptions and down time, reduces the risk of cumulative fatigue and thus the urgency of a 30-minute break," FMCSA said. "Providing an exemption from the break will also reduce the number of situations where a crane operator has to park at roadside midway through a move between job sites in order to comply with the 30-minute break rule. The Agency is concerned with parking shortages, especially for very large vehicles. It is highly undesirable to have cranes parked on the shoulders of highways, much less extending into the travel lanes. No matter how well marked, trucks parked at roadside, especially at night, are too easily mistaken for moving vehicles and struck at full speed, with serious consequences."

As is as typical with other HOS exemptions FMCSA has granted, motor carriers operating under the exemption must have a satisfactory safety rating or be unrated. Drivers must have a copy of the exemption document in their possession, and the lifting capacity of the crane must be displayed on a manufacturer's certification plate or on the crane or in manufacturer's documentation carried on the vehicle.

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