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Written on: October 4, 2022

Extending the limits on truck driver hours-of-service restrictions will help propane haulers respond to spikes in consumer demand, according to an exemption request to be considered by federal regulators.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is giving the public 30 days to comment on the request, submitted by the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA), a 2,500-member organization based in Washington, D.C. A notice is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Friday.

As laid out in its application filed with FMCSA in August, NPGA proposes a “special exemption” for the propane industry that would extend the daily 14-hour driving window to 17 hours, and the driving limit within that window from 11 hours to 14. The exemption would limit the number of consecutive days a driver could use it and must conclude with an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours, as required under the current maximum drive-time rules.

“Over the last several years, the hours-of-service regulations have evolved with specific limits on driving times, breaks, off-duty times, sleeper berth periods, etc.,” according to NPGA, in explaining the need for the exemption.

“The country’s roadways and highways, along with the pipeline systems and railroads, however, have experienced very little change or expansion. Meanwhile, the propane industry has experienced an increase of consumers who rely on propane for daily living and operations as well as during emergency conditions when other energies are interrupted.”

Such conditions lead to periods of peak consumer demand, according to NPGA, and include:

— Railcar delays in excess of five business days.

— Interruption of electricity services.

— Interruption of natural gas services.

— Limitation of pipeline services due to pipeline allocation.

— Weather- and storm-related events, including, but not limited to, fallen trees, rock and mudslides, below-average temperatures, flooding, snow and tropical storms.

— Interruption of normal operations due to communicable disease, such as influenza and COVID-19.

Spikes in demand leading up to and during these conditions result in an uptick in deliveries to residential consumers as well as to bulk storage locations, NPGA asserted.

“As a result of these needs, long- and short-haul drivers often reach the maximum operating limits … within three or four days,” according to NPGA. “Subsequently, operations experience reductions in available drivers while consumer demand continues,” and the requested exemption would provide a “supplemental means” by which propane carriers would be able to respond.