Editor's Journal: HOS, Take Five

Randy Grider | December 01, 2009

 Rule remake leaves us wondering if there will ever be a final solution

Randy Grider is editor of Truckers News. He is the son of a career trucker and holds a CDL. He blogs regularly at truckwriter.wordpress.com. Write him at rgrider@rrpub.com.
Randy Grider is editor of Truckers News. He is the son of a career trucker and holds a CDL. He blogs regularly at truckwriter.wordpress.com. Write him at rgrider@rrpub.com.

The battle over the hours-of-service rule is on parallel with the Rocky movies. Just when you think you’ve seen the final one, Balboa comes back to take on another challenger.

While the overall plot remains the same — rising up to the challenge of our rival (if we may borrow from the “Eye of the Tiger” theme song) — the sequels just never seem to end.

Well, move over, Balboa, and take a well-needed rest for a minute. It’s time for Round Umpteen Hundred in the battle over drivers’ hours of service.

In order to settle a pending lawsuit brought by some trucking and safety groups, the Obama administration has agreed to reconsider the current rule and propose a new rulemaking by sometime in late summer. A final rule is expected 12 months after that.

We feel that this action will be more than a tweaking of the current rule, which has been challenged, thrown out, modified and defended more times than Rocky has yelled, “Adrian.”

While the sleeper-berth provision was dropped from the original 2004 rule, the controversial 11 hours per day of driving time and the 34-hour restart have survived, and those components of the rule have been the center of the constant legal challenges over the past five years. Groups like the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Truck Safety Coalition say the rule is unsafe and puts drivers’ lives and health in danger.

The Bush administration and American Trucking Associations defended each challenge by pointing to statistics that show truck-related fatalities and injuries have dropped significantly since the rule was implemented. But the current administration seems to feel otherwise. “Safety is our highest priority at the U. S. Department of Transportation, and so we believe that starting over and developing a rule that can help save lives is the smart thing to do,” said U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood.

So what kind of rule should we expect? To satisfy interest groups like the Teamsters, which support Obama, the 11 hours of driving could be reduced back to 10 hours, the 34-hour restart period eliminated or maybe expanded to 48 hours. The 14-hour window will probably stay in place. In this scenario, the rule would be somewhat similar to the pre-2004 rule that had been in place for six decades.

The reduction of the extra hour may be an adjustment for a few, but the loss of the restart period will be a major productivity hit for many drivers and carriers alike. Carriers will have to hire more drivers, which will add to an already-congested infrastructure, and drivers will spend more unpaid time away from home trying to earn a living.

Many of the safety groups also advocate a mandate for electronic onboard recorders. That will likely happen in a separate rulemaking already in the works, but, of course, these are best guesses. We are talking the politics of Washington, D.C., where many things could happen in the next 20 months before a final rule is supposed to go into effect.

Even if all three objectives of groups that have challenged the current rule are met, we see it as more of a political win than the victory for safety LaHood seems to be laying the groundwork to claim.