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Looking Ahead: The Possible Changes in 2021 Resting Hour Requirements

It’s looking like 2021 could be a year of significant change for the trucking industry. New presidential leadership, advancements in technology, and a shortage of drivers create a unique landscape conducive to exciting industry updates. The start of these changes began in early January, when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched a pilot program to study the impact of new updates to long-haul driver resting hour requirements. Not sure what this means for you as an owner/operator? Find out below.

What is a Sleeper Berth?

For drivers who are new to the industry, “sleeper berth” refers to the amount of time a driver must be off-duty or not driving within a specific work period. Simply put, sleeper berths are the mandatory daily rest periods for long-haul drivers. Currently, truckers can drive for 11 consecutive hours during a 14-hour working period. Once drivers have reached their 14-hour working limit, they are required to take a mandatory 10-hour break. To increase flexibility, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) allows drivers to break up their sleeper berths into two parts, providing drivers with various options for scheduling their required rest breaks:

  • 10-Hour Sleeper Berth: Following 14 consecutive hours working, drivers must have a 10-hour rest period.
  • 8/2 Sleeper Berth Split: Drivers can rest for eight hours during a 14-hour working shift and two additional hours at the end of the shift for a cumulative total of 10 resting hours. 
  • 7/3 Sleeper Berth Split: Drivers can rest for seven hours during a 14-hour working shift and three additional hours at the end of the shift for a cumulative total of 10 resting hours. 

The added flexibility gives drivers the ability to better plan and schedule their time on the road to meet their individual needs. 

Proposed Changes to Rest Requirements

The FMCSA recently proposed a pilot program to study the impact of new sleeper berth scheduling. The proposal will allow drivers to split their resting periods up, requiring both rest periods to be a minimum of four hours long. This means drivers will have the ability to break their resting hours up into either 6/4 or 5/5 split segments. Former Deputy Administrator of the FMCSA Wiley Deck stated the proposed pilot program is designed “to explore ways to provide flexibility for drivers while maintaining safety on our roadways.” 

Not everyone is on board with the proposed changes, though. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety expressed concern that reducing the mandatory number of consecutive rest hours would lead to increased driver fatigue. Cathy Chase, president of the advocacy group, asserted the pilot program is a “continuous effort to cripple minimal safety measures [and] is antithetical to FMCSA’s mission of implementing countermeasures that will reduce truck crashes and fatalities.” The FMCSA disputes this idea, citing research that suggests “the total amount of sleep in a 24-hour period is more important than accumulating sleep in just one period for mitigating fatigue.”

Benefits of Breaking Up Rest Periods

While the industry may be divided on split sleeper berths, the ability for long-haul truckers to break up their mandatory resting period provides many benefits. Drivers can avoid wasting valuable driving time and paid working hours by using a sleeper berth break during long delays at shipping and receiving locations. During inclement weather, long-haul drivers can pull into a safe location and use part of their rest period to wait for safer driving conditions. Drivers can also use the split to circumvent peak traffic hours, avoiding sitting in traffic or creating traffic in already congested areas. 

One of the most beneficial aspects of the proposed sleeper berth split is drivers can use the splits to plan out safer routes. For example, if a driver’s receiving destination is 10 hours away but a preferred rest stop is six hours into their route, they can plan their journey using one of their sleeper berths to stop at their preferred location. Under existing regulations, the driver would have to either stop eight hours into their route in an unfamiliar location or push through the fatigue for two more hours to reach their destination. 

Changes in sleeper berth schedules are certain to have an impact on the trucking industry. Although the long-term effects of splitting mandatory rest periods have yet to be fully studied, proponents of the FMCSA pilot program believe the increased flexibility and control over driving schedules can be incredibly beneficial for long-haul drivers. Make sure to check back here for updates on the results of the pilot program and the future expectations of sleeper berth regulations.

Are Truckers Included in the Third Vaccination Group?

Are Truckers Included in the Third Vaccination Group?

We have officially passed the grim one-year mark since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in the United States. Since then, the trucking industry faced massive unemployment for a period of time and now faces a shortage of drivers due to several pandemic-related factors. With the global health crisis still in full-force, long-haul drivers must still be vigilant about protecting their health while on the road. The good news is, the United States is currently distributing multiple vaccines, meaning the country is on its way to returning to some semblance of normalcy. But when will long-haul truck drivers be eligible to receive the vaccine?

What are the Vaccination Phases?

The Advisory Committee of Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established a recommended vaccination schedule detailing when specific population segments should be vaccinated. The proposed vaccination schedule was designed to find a balance between prevention of morbidity and mortality and preservation of societal functioning—in other words, preventing as many unnecessary deaths as possible while protecting the economy. 

The first round of vaccinations has been broken up into three phases:

  • Phase 1a – Includes residents of long-term care facilities and healthcare personnel
  • Phase 1b – Includes persons 75 years of age or older and frontline essential workers
  • Phase 1c – Includes persons 65-74 years of age, persons 16-64 years of age with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers 

You may be asking yourself, “Where do truckers fit into this plan?” That’s a great question. Since early December, the American Trucking Association (ATA) has been pushing the federal government to include truckers in phase 1b as frontline essential workers due to the massive role truckers play in the distribution of vaccines. Originally, transportation industry workers were included in Phase 1b because of the risks posed to the health of unvaccinated truckers while on the road. The CDC has since updated its vaccination plan, moving the transportation and logistics sector to Phase 1c. 

States Control Vaccine Distribution

Here’s where things get tricky. Neither the CDC nor ACIP has the power to enforce who receives a vaccine in each phase or the vaccination schedule; these decisions are ultimately left up to the discretion of state governments. According to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), only 33 states have adjusted their Phase 1c groups to reflect CDC and ACIP updates; of these states, only 17 follow ACIP recommendations. Many states have expanded the age range compared to the recommendations while some states have implemented even stricter requirements for the essential worker designation. 

Further complicating the issue is the fact that states are moving at very different paces to try and vaccinate all of their residents. The majority of states are in Phase 1a of the vaccination process while 10 states and the District of Columbia have moved on to Phase 1b. Very few states, like Michigan, have begun Phase 1c of vaccination. Stay up to date on Phase 1 vaccination roll-out by checking with your state and local governments for their specific vaccination schedule. 

Some Drivers Need the Vaccine More Than Others

Even within the transportation industry, there are specific groups of truckers who face a much higher risk of infection than others. For example, package delivery drivers often interact with the general public in their day-to-day routine, making it important for them to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

What about long-haul truck drivers? While they may not have as much public interaction as delivery drivers, truckers do face an increased risk of infection while on the road. The average long-haul driver spends 300 days each year on the road. That means for 300 days, truckers use public facilities for bathrooms and showers, eat at public restaurants, and interact with officials at truck stops and weigh stations. The ATA has tried multiple times to get long-haul drivers designated as Phase 1b frontline essential workers, noting that more than 80% of U.S. communities rely exclusively on trucks to receive necessary goods. 

As previously stated, individual states have the ability to make their own vaccination schedule, depending on their needs. For example, both Georgia and Massachusetts expanded their Phase 1b to cover all essential workers, long-haul drivers included. Navigate to your state’s website to find more information on its vaccination roll-out schedule.

How Owner/Operators Can Prepare for Tax Season

After a very long year, the 2021 tax season is upon us. As an owner/operator, properly filing your tax return is crucial to the success of your operation. Navigating the increasingly complex tax code can be arduous, though. Multiple deadlines, numerous deductions, and various available exemptions and credits… filing your taxes can feel nigh on impossible. Those in the industry, however, know preparation is key. Plan ahead to ensure you have all the necessary documentation you need to properly file your taxes by the expected deadlines. 

Here’s how owner/operators can prepare for the 2021 tax season.

Which Tax Forms Do Owner/Operators Need?

Let’s begin by answering the most basic question: Which tax forms am I expected to file? This depends entirely on your specific employment status—are you an employee of a trucking company, an independent contractor, or an owner/operator?

If you are employed as a driver for a carrier company or similar, you should receive a standard W-2 form for filing your taxes. The W-2 details the amount of wages you were paid during the previous fiscal year of employment. This form is the most straightforward filing procedure since there are no job-related expenses. 

If you are an independent contractor or owner/operator, however, you will receive two tax filing forms: a 1099-MISC and a 1099-NEC. What’s the difference between the two? The 1099-MISC is an information return form (similar to a W-2) used to report payments made from a business to an independent contractor. Any independent driver who makes more than $600 from one particular source will be expected to complete a 1099-MISC from that source. The 1099-NEC, on the other hand, is used for independent contractors to report payments received from businesses for work performed. Independent contractors and owner/operators are required to complete and file both the 1099-MISC and 1099-NEC forms with the IRS.

When are the Filing Deadlines?

Don’t get slapped with a hefty penalty by missing the appropriate filing deadlines. The IRS penalizes workers for multiple reasons, including failure to file taxes and failure to pay taxes. Penalties include steep fines, seizure of property, and even jail time. Protect yourself by knowing the important filing and extension dates. 

  • February 12: The IRS begins accepting and processing individual tax returns.
  • April 15: The date for employees to file their returns or request a deadline extension.
  • April 15: Any unpaid taxes must be paid in full to avoid owing interest and penalties. 
  • October 15: Final date to file for those who requested a deadline extension. 

Notice that April 15 is an especially important date as it is the deadline to file your returns, request an extension on filing, or pay any unpaid taxes to the IRS. 

What’s the Recovery Rebate Credit?

This year, many working individuals will have the ability to receive a tax credit if they did not receive a stimulus check. If you received the maximum amount of payment from both federal stimulus checks, then there is no impact on your taxes and you do not need to report the stimulus payment as income. If you are one of the many owner/operators who did not receive the full stimulus payment amount from one or both stimulus packages due to your level of income, you may be eligible for the Recovery Rebate Credit. The Recovery Rebate Credit is designed to either increase tax refund amounts or decrease the amount of taxes owed for workers who did not receive the full economic relief payments from the federal government. 

To be eligible for the Recovery Rebate, you must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. resident alien, cannot be claimed as a dependent for tax year 2020, and you must have a Social Security number valid for employment. To determine whether or not you are eligible for the Recover Rebate, fill out the Recovery Rebate Credit Worksheet in the Instructions for Form 1040 and Form 1040-SR.

Filing your taxes can be intimidating, as the United States tax code becomes increasingly complicated each year. Rest assured, you don’t have to go at it alone. If you are concerned with your ability to file your taxes correctly and on-time, hire a professional tax preparer to help guide you step-by-step through the filing process. Protect yourself and avoid making common mistakes by filing the correct forms by the appropriate deadline.

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