Hours of Reckoning

Max Kvidera and Todd Dills | July 01, 2011

Trucking industry sounds off about impact of proposed hours-of-service changes

As the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration postponed releasing its latest drivers hours-of-service rules rewrite, the industry is wondering what is behind the current regulatory revision. Many believe Congress may have to legislate a solution.

Night hauls may be less desirable if proposed changes to the restart rules go into effect requiring two midnight to 6 a.m. periods to be included in any restart.

 Since the FMCSA announced creation of the latest proposal to revisit HOS regulations in December to satisfy terms of its December 2009 court settlement with advocacy groups challenging the current rule, industry groups have noted inconsistencies in the way FMCSA has supported the changes with cost/benefit analysis. “As proposed, the rule is not at all satisfactory to the industry,” says Dave Osiecki, vice president of safety, security and operations for the American Trucking Associations. “There’s no basis for the changes as far as we can tell. We can only come to the conclusion that the changes are more politically driven than based on science or data.”

Many drivers echo the ATA. “When is enough, enough?” asks Landstar-leased owner-operator Andy Soucy, based in Lebanon, Tenn. “What is it that they want? They want to change [the hours of service] mainly to get interest groups off the government’s back. … People don’t like trucks. They fear trucks. We’re the big kid on the block that they want to pick on. They’ll never be happy, though we’re now the safest we’ve ever been in history.”

What’s more, Osiecki says, law enforcement, represented nationally by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, “has said, ‘Hey, these rules are working. Let’s just enforce them better than we have been.’”

CVSA noted in a press release that, if implemented, FMCSA’s proposal could well have the “unintended consequence of reducing overall CMV and motorist safety. According to CVSA, the changes could make roadside enforcement more complex and open the door toward more drivers falsifying their records.”

Said CVSA Executive Director Stephen A. Keppler: “The consensus from our state and jurisdictional enforcement members regarding these proposed rules is that they are confusing and not easily understood. The proposed rules, in our view, will be more difficult to enforce roadside than the rules in place today.”If changes are made law as proposed, carriers will have to adjust schedules, negotiate new terms with shippers, buy more equipment and hire more drivers. Drivers will face the prospect of running more miles to make the same pay or pushing for higher pay. FMCSA reopened the public docket through June 8 to obtain comments on four additional studies that analyze driver crash risk as it relates to duration of driving and fatigue. FMCSA rep Candice Tolliver notes that the agency advised the parties to the settlement agreement of the need to reopen the comment period. FMCSA “will provide additional details on the rulemaking schedule in the coming weeks.” Osiecki says he expects the delay to be a brief one.

Unintended consequences

Drivers who commented on the proposed changes pointed out numerous potential unintended consequences of the rules. Trucker Howard Brawley, for instance, writing in April, noted the revision to the restart rules to include two midnight-to-6 a.m. periods could add to daytime congestion woes on highways as former nighttime haulers find themselves forced into a daylight schedule.

To a certain extent, this has already happened. Regulators locked in the 14-hour rule years ago to conform hours regulations to the human biological clock. “I can understand that,” says Soucy. “I don’t agree with a company saying your time off is up at two o’clock in the morning and you need to get to work. Let the man sleep until six o’clock.” At the same time, he adds, “the hours of service that were imposed on us back then, well, they seem to be working. They’re achieving what FMCSA wants. I see many more drivers off the road at seven, eight o’clock at night. Then again, I see more drivers on the road during peak congestion times.”

Testing proposed rules

The potential productivity loss from hours revision, with both higher costs and time spent adjusting to a third set of regulations in seven years, concerns many in the industry. At an FMCSA listening session in February, trucking representatives and drivers mostly urged regulators to leave current rules in place.

“They seem to be working.” — owner-operator Andy Soucy on the current hours regulations in place since 2004

While many in the industry speculated how the proposals might harm their operations, one driver presented specific information about how the rules affected his work. Allen Parker, a 24-year driver for Werner Enterprises, operated for four weeks as if the hours proposals were real.

In the test set up by Werner, Parker said he had to drive more days to complete his regular routes and arrived home later than normal, which extended his weekend rest break. His extra time off didn’t give him more rest but more time to find things to do, leading to more stress, he said. “In the 30 days, I can count three days of production I lost.”

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