I remember a game we used to play in elementary school. Our teacher would whisper a famous quote in one of her pupil’s ears. The student would turn around and try to whisper the same phrase into a classmate’s ear. The game would continue until the phrase was quietly passed to everyone around the room. Then the last child to hear the phrase would stand up and announce to the class what he or she had heard.
“In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes” (Ben Franklin) might turn out to be “In the worm, nothing is surfing but dudes and taxis.” The end result proved that in many cases word of mouth can be a fairly ineffective way to pass along information.
During the first week of January, our editors fanned out across the country to cover the first days of the new hours-of-service rule (see page 12). They witnessed a lot of confusion concerning the new regulations, much of it due to truckers passing along bad information by word of mouth. While most drivers were just trying to help each other, a lot of inaccurate information has been making the rounds.
On Jan. 6, Truckers News Senior Editor Sean Kelley found one truck driver sitting in his truck at a Simmons Truck Stop in Bracey, Va. He was already perplexed by the rule – two days into its implementation. The driver had driven 10 hours and then spent the next 10 hours off-duty, sleeping in his truck. But he was waiting for four more hours to elapse so he could start driving again. Other drivers had told him he could only drive 11 hours in a 24-hour period, and he thought he had to wait until that 24 hours was up.
While one of the new rule’s goals is to move truckers toward a 24-hour work cycle, the driver could have driven another four hours within 24 hours of when he first started his shift.
Some drivers complained of little or no training by the carriers on the rule. How to legally log the rule was a source of much debate. How different states might interpret the new rule was also a hot topic. CB radios were buzzing with both well-informed opinions and totally off-the-wall chatter. Just a few days before the Jan. 4 implementation of the rule, an eTrucker.com poll showed that less than a quarter of drivers who responded said they full understood the new rule.
Fortunately, officials with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration saw the probability for misunderstanding of the rule and decided to make the first couple of months under the rule an educational opportunity. The agency said only “flagrant violators” would be cited in the first 60 days.
FMCSA added that it hoped for more face time with drivers for education purposes and is asking its state enforcement partners to spend time with truckers. “The education piece is the most important part of this process,” FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg said in late December. “We will be spending time with drivers. We’ll be posting info in truckstops across the nation. We’ll be getting information in the hands of more truck drivers.”
Hopefully, most drivers by now have a clearer understanding of the new rule. But for those who do not, take heed; the enforcement grace period is quickly coming to an end.
If you have questions, ask your dispatcher, safety director or law enforcement officials you may encounter at the scales or during a roadside inspection. It’s their job to help you, and it’s your responsibility to let them know you have questions.
There are also plenty of other sources available to you to clear up any misunderstandings you may have. The December 2003 issue of Truckers News has a comprehensive article on the rule. It can be found at www.truckersnews.com. Also, the FMCSA has a toll-free help line set up to answer questions, (800) 598-5664, and it’s reachable 24 hours a day.
Despite drivers’ good intentions, don’t rely on word of mouth unless you are absolutely certain the person you are talking with has a clear understanding of the rule. Take the time now to do your own homework, or you’ll pay the price down the road.