South Carolina operator Joshua Jay Johnson, commenting on the NPRM at regulations.gov, called the mandatory off-duty periods problematic because they come with no additional flexibility. He often takes breaks, he says, but, “The problem with a break is nobody logs them because it doesn’t stop the 14-hour clock. Millions of Americans have to clock out to take a lunch break, as we should be able to do. So make your break mandatory, but allow us to clock out. With this 14-hour rule it is like a constant race, which puts drivers in a hurry, which in turn makes them careless.”
One of the big questions before the proposed changes were announced was whether FMCSA would reduce the number of driving hours allowed between off-duty periods from the current 11 to 10. Rather than decide now, the agency says it will settle the question following public comment. The agency did say, however, it is leaning toward reducing the driving time limit to 10 hours.
Regardless of the number of hours allowed per shift, FMCSA’s proposal would place new restrictions on drivers’ workdays. Under the current rule, drivers can do nondriving work after the 14-hour window for driving time. FMCSA now proposes to require that drivers’ workdays end immediately following the 14-hour window.
Sound complicated? ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said the details were “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers.” Truck productivity industrywide, he added, would be substantially reduced under the proposal, particularly if maximum driving hours were limited to 10, an outcome ATA’s news release assumed to be likely.
Another industry concern leading into the NPRM’s release was whether FMCSA would increase the number of hours required to restart the 60 hours in seven days/70 hours in eight days limits on cumulative on-duty time. The agency proposed to leave the restart at 34 hours but with a significant restriction: Restarts would have to include two periods of midnight to 6 a.m. In addition, drivers would be limited to a single restart in a 60- or 70-hour period; current regulations don’t restrict the number of restarts.
Georgia-based hauler Douglas Wade Cochran, commenting on the federal docket, noted potential problems with this provision. One involves slow freight markets, such as in the recent recession. “When we are having a slow week, it is possible to have two and almost three” restarts, Cochran noted. “Why should I be penalized twice – a slow week and … toward the end of the week, I could get a good long run, but then would have to worry about my hours.”
Echoing ATA President Graves and other drivers’ comments on the matter, Cochran pleaded with FMCSA for simplicity. “This sounds so complicated,” he said of the proposed restart provisions, then suggesting that the agency make the restart 34 hours without restrictions “or knock it up to 48 hours.”
Also, current regulations say a driver is on duty any time he is in a commercial motor vehicle unless he is in the sleeper berth. Under the proposed rules, time spent resting in a parked CMV is excluded from on-duty time. And even in a moving CMV, team drivers can exclude from on-duty time up to two hours they spend in the passenger seat immediately before or after eight consecutive hours in a sleeper berth. n
ATA alleges fatigue data misrepresented
Jan. 12, the American Trucking Associations accused FMCSA of misapplying its own crash numbers so as to elevate driver fatigue as a cause of truck crashes. Without this, and several other ill-considered revised assumptions, the proposed rule would fail the statutorily required cost/benefit analysis, the association says.
With the proposed rule still in public comment period, FMCSA declined to directly address ATA’s allegations.
ATA President Bill Graves says, “Since the current HOS rules were introduced in 2003, the trucking industry has achieved a continually improving safety record, reaching the lowest fatality and injury rate levels in recorded history. It is troubling that this complex, restrictive set of proposed rules is founded on what appears to be incorrect analysis and inflated math.”