The FMCSA denies the driver’s duty time exemption request

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has denied Leland Schmitt’s request to be exempted from state work hours regulations, but the Spring Valley, Wisconsin, truck driver is not giving up, according to his wife.

“We knew [getting denied] could be a possibility, and of course we’re upset,” Lisa Schmitt told FreightWaves on Tuesday. “But hopefully we will resubmit our application by the end of the day. We are also examining other options. We’re not dropping this. The FMCSA has a reasonable need to address the reasons for denying the application, and we believe they have not done so.”

In his exemption request filed in January, Leland Schmitt asked to be exempted from several duty hours, including the 10-hour continuous off-duty period, the 14-hour continuous duty clock, and the 30-minute rest break.

“The level of safety provided by being granted this exemption would be better than compliance…because my body gets the rest it needs when it needs it,” Schmitt wrote. “This would be accomplished because by the time I am 50, I can recognize when my body needs rest and when I am confident enough to drive the nation’s roads. The level of safety under this exception would be at least the same if not more than now based on my 30 years of safe driving experience.”

However, the FMCSA contended that Schmitt failed to demonstrate that he would maintain a level of safety equal to or greater than that without the exemption.

“Research studies show that working long hours reduces sleep and affects driver health, and that the risk of accidents increases with working hours,” the agency said in a decision to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. “HOS regulations place limits on when and how long a person can drive to ensure drivers remain awake and alert and to reduce the possibility of cumulative fatigue.”

FMCSA also said it agreed with some of the nearly 700 commenters on Schmitt’s request, noting that if the agency exempted one person from the rules, “it could open the door to a large number of similar exemption requests.” Such a result would be inconsistent with a key objective of the HOS regulations.”

But Lisa Schmitt argues that a person can currently drive up to 13 hours in a 24-hour period. “We just asked to drive 11 in a 24-hour period,” she said. “So if we drive fewer hours in a day, how can we be less safe?”

She said the FMCSA was also wrong in claiming that granting her husband’s application would trigger a spate of similar inquiries.

“They opened the floodgates themselves by publishing an application that does not meet any of the exemption criteria [in the regulations]’ she said, referring to an HOS exemption request filed later in the year.

Schmitt said her husband quit in April because of high work-related costs, including rising fuel and insurance costs — along with inflexibility with current HOS rules. This inflexibility has exacerbated problems related to a lack of truck parking “and puts us at the mercy of shippers and receivers,” she said.

“After 30 years it’s not fun to be in this environment. We came home, took the summer off, and stocked the pantry. But we want to get back on the road.”

Click here to view more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

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