For the Record

Truckers News Staff | February 01, 2012

HOS restart

New hours regs could cut into solo night drivers’ incomes with new 34-hour reset restrictions

By Todd Dills

In the aftermath of the pre-Christmas holiday announcement of the hours of service final rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, truck driver concern was palpable at Truckers News’ and Overdrive’s websites. Some drivers called for nationwide shutdowns and other protests, but most reflected the broader industry’s exasperation at further changes to a rule that has undergone several rounds of revisions over the last decade.

FMCSA has left opposing parties unhappy with the new hours of service rule — the American Trucking Associations has said it is researching potential legal challenges, though industry watcher Jay Thompson is betting challenges may come from other quarters first.

There was a sigh of relief in the agency’s keeping the 11th hour of driving, as the potential costs of such a change outweighed any safety benefit FMCSA could determine. Among other changes mostly favorable to drivers were tweaks to on-duty time in favor of flexibility for team drivers and daycab operators resting in parked trucks. The new rules make it legal to log two hours of off-duty time in the passenger seat before or after eight in the sleeper. At once, new mandated 30-minute rest breaks every eight hours of driving, perceived largely as favorable by most solo drivers, could complicate teams hauling sensitive loads requiring dual driver protection — or constant monitoring.

Also included was definition of driving three hours beyond limits as an “egregious” violation, with maximum civil penalties possible for drivers committing such a sin — as well as their employing or leasing motor carriers, if complicity could be proven.

Perhaps the most controversial, potentially productivity-limiting change has to do with the 34-hour restart and restrictions on its use. As proposed, the final rule limits a driver to use of the restart once per week — and must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. This is FMCSA’s acknowledged attempt to force drivers to consider conforming to circadian body rhythms with a goal of reducing fatigue.

Ruan Transport driver Shawn Hubbard, driving mostly local within a 100-mile radius of his home base in Southern California, sees the change as costing him a potential $200 a week, given his regular six-nights-a-week graveyard-shift schedule. “The way we are paid is by the load — I can do up to $300 worth on a good night, but $200 a night is average,” Hubbard says. “If I had to give up one day a week, every week, that would eliminate $800 a month from my check,” or nearly $10,000 a year.

Hubbard’s quick to note that working six days on, two off, is just not practical given the weekly realities of his dedicated operation. “The people making the rules have no idea — they’ve never sat in a truck or lived in a truck. They’ve never seen the realities of the road and the reality of shipper and receiver locations.”

That sentiment is echoed by independent owner-operator Mike Crawford, Overdrive’s 2009 Trucker of the Year running long-haul on a dedicated contract with Prime Inc. Crawford urged lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of the driver. Drivers “always get the same answer from regulators: ‘you just have to plan better,’” he says. “But we can’t always plan around shippers, manufacturers, carriers and these other entities that are involved. The Dallas Cowboys planned on beating the New York Giants, but it didn’t happen — their plans didn’t work out. When are some of these people out here — these bureaucrats, company owners, and such — going to plan better and not throw everything on the company drivers. It gets frustrating for these guys out here.”

Industry consultant Jay Thompson, president of Transportation Business Associates, characterizes the restart as it is used among cross-country haulers less as a tool for maximizing hours but one that provides great operational flexibility. “They run across the country and often reset on either end, whether you’re close on your hours limits or not.”

Restarting around shipper/receiver delays ensures the driver will be able to expeditiously get back across the nation without a delay on the return trip, he notes. “It’s a flexibility tool that a lot of people have planned around. [Restart changes] could be a big impact on the most productive truckers,” those running above the industry majors’ average of around 2,300 miles a week per truck, he adds.

Mark Theis, safety director at flatbed fleet Long Haul Trucking, says the impact of restart changes on weekly drive time for operators will be minimal, “unless it is more of a dedicated run.” Theis says the impact at the carrier would largely be productivity neutral, but still acknowledged the exasperation expressed by many in the industry. “The government spends all this money on battling and this is what they come up with,” he says. It could cost “an average-size company with a system that scans their logs about $10,000” in software and systems modifications and driver retraining.  

Owner-operator Crawford, too, doesn’t see the changes impacting his productivity, since he can adjust his operations. “I’ll just have to learn to live with the new restart the way it is. I’ll have to do some more planning,” he says.