A Matter of Time

| April 07, 2005

In seven months, truckers will begin operating under a new hours-of-service rule the U.S. Department of Transportation unveiled on April 24. To avoid confusion when Jan. 4, 2003 rolls around, drivers should familiarize themselves with the changes now.

The new rule allows drivers to drive up to 11 consecutive hours but will also force them to take at least 10 consecutive hours off during the shift.

The total number of hours drivers can work in a day will drop from 15 to 14, giving drivers a maximum of 11 hours of driving time and three hours of on-duty, non-driving time for loading, waiting or other activities before they must take 10 consecutive hours off for rest. Sleeper birth splits still exist but have been conformed to the new hours.

Drivers can also still drive 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. They can also restart their week if they take 34 consecutive hours off.

According to transportation officials, the goal of the rule is to address fatigue and safety concerns, while protecting the economic interest of trucking companies.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta say the first major change in the HOS rule in six decades “will make our nation’s highways much safer.”

The original rule was enacted in the late 1930s and avoided any major changes, despite transformations in the nation’s highways and trucks. Written long before air conditioning and the Interstate Highway System, the regulations were designed to prevent accidents and address labor concerns.

Acting Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Annette Sandberg says the agency took into account those changes when it extended the hours truckers could drive. “The (new) rule strikes a balance between uniform, consistent enforcement and the need for operational flexibility,” Sandberg says.

How will the new HOS rule affect safety?

Source: eTrucker poll, 280 respondents

The current rule allows a driver to be on duty for a maximum of 15 hours, with only 10 hours of driving before an eight-hour break. A driver could technically drive up to 16 hours, minus time allowed for pretrip inspections, in a 24-hour period under the rule if he drove 10, slept eight and drove six. The new rule allows a driver to drive 11 hours, take 10 off, and squeeze in another three hours of driving in a 24-hour period.

The new rule, considering the 14-hour on-duty period followed by a 10-hour rest, comes closer to achieving a 24-hour clock. FMCSA says that a work-and-rest cycle, which is consistent with fatigue science, is still a goal of the agency. Future rulemakings will move drivers further toward a normal circadian rhythm, Sandberg says.

The federal government has been planning new HOS rules since 1978 under the old Federal Highway Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission, but it has been plagued by delays. The most recent revision was announced three years ago and also required 10 consecutive hours off each day. But the rule included longer rest periods, or “weekends” of 36 to 52 hours and electronic onboard recorders. The proposal also delineated between five kinds of local, regional and over-the-road applications.

The plan caused such an uproar among industry and safety groups that a Congressional effort blocked monies for implementation. Trucking companies and truck drivers singled out the on-board recorder as expensive and intrusive, while safety groups objected to the additional hours drivers could operate. More than 53,000 comments were eventually submitted on the proposal, which the FMCSA says it considered in drafting the final rule.

One casualty of that process was a requirement for electronic onboard recorders or electronic logs, which FMCSA initially felt were key to enforcing the original proposal. FMCSA decided against adopting them for four reasons:

  • Costs varied widely, and benefits were not proven
  • Enforcement officials felt a design standard was necessary and does not exist for printouts from EOBRs
  • The phase-in period, under which larger carriers would have had to obtain EOBRs earlier than smaller carriers, meant larger carriers would probably pay more per unit and smaller carriers, the ones most likely to offend, would not have the recorders for up to four years
  • EOBRs raised certain privacy and litigation concerns among drivers and carriers.

    But EOBRs might still be in the future. The final rule prescribes further study of EOBRs, which, if they are eventually approved, the agency says, will need to identify individual users, resist tampering, produce records for audit, offer easy access to HOS records to roadside enforcement officials, achieve acceptability among drivers and be cost effective.

    “The agency will evaluate alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for the use of … recorders and other technology to insure that HOS record keepers are in compliance,” Sandberg says.

    The EOBRs were seen as a way to improve enforcement, and without them, safety groups say the new rule won’t cut down the number of drivers who cheat on their logs.

    “Clearly there’s an enforcement problem, but … the science and the data weren’t there at this point in time to mandate those recorders,” Sandberg says. “Under the the new rule, though, “it’s much easier to look at those log books and determine whether they’ve met their requirements than under the old rule.”

    Even if EOBRs aren’t right around the corner, drivers soon might have to provide documentation to back up log books. Sandberg says the agency will follow with another rule addressing documents a driver must keep to back up log books. That rule won’t be done until after the current rule is implemented, she says.

    The FMCSA also canned five operations areas it delineated under its 2000 proposal. The agency said having one rule for all operations greatly simplifies matters for enforcement officials and carriers.

    The FMCSA considered three plans in coming up with its final rule: one authored by the American Trucking Associations, one from safety group Parents Against Tired Truckers and one created internally. It determined that ATA’s proposal didn’t save enough lives and the one from PATT, while it saved more lives than FMCSA’s plan, cost too much money. The FMCSA says its final rule mediates between PATT’s plan and the one offered by ATA.

    The eight-month waiting period before implementation of the rule will give the FMCSA time to train officers, modify computer systems and enforcement manuals and publish educational materials for the public, says Dave Longo, a DOT spokesman. Plans to implement the changes will begin immediately, although truckers will continue to operate under the old rule for the remaining seven months. The FMCSA says it will train more than 8,000 federal and state investigators, inspectors and auditors on the new rule, and the agency will work with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an organization of law enforcement and compliance officers, to make any necessary modifications to out-of-service criteria.

    FMCSA officials say the new rule will save as many as 75 lives a year or as few as 24. Both numbers reflect only a small percentage of the 4,902 fatalities from large-truck crashes that occurred in 2002, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

    The officials also said trucking companies would achieve a net productivity gain of more than $1 billion in savings from fewer accidents, deaths and other factors. Their economic analysis also suggested revenue improvements could come from 48,000 drivers the agency says carriers won’t have to hire because of the additional driving time.

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