Overdrive Extra

Max Heine

Hours of service option: Earning flexibility

| July 25, 2013

Every time hours of service comes under analysis – and that’s been a lot over the last decade – drivers and carriers have to point out the obvious to regulators. That is, trucking is a huge, multi-faceted industry, and likewise the types of hauls and schedules of drivers are all over the board. Trying to find one set of hours regs that fits everyone is like trying to find one clothing outfit that pleases every woman in the world.

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Jeff Clark, 54, has been driving 25 years. He’s leased to Paper Transport of Green Bay, Wis.

Truckers’ simple mantra has been: “Let me drive when I’m rested, and rest when I’m tired.” Of course, aggressive dispatchers, and in some cases willing truckers, are all too eager to abuse the second half of that precept. So regulators feel they have to do something, and we all know the messes these good intentions have birthed, especially the new regs that took effect this month.

One partial solution advocated by well-known driver Jeff Clark in his 2008 book, “Hey We’re Dying Out Here: The Truth Behind The Trucker Shortage,” is what he calls a Gold Card system. After a given number of miles (or years) with no violations or at-fault wrecks, a driver would earn the card. This status would bring freedom from hours of service regs on the assumption that this is an experienced, safe, mature driver who knows to drive when rested and rest when tired.

For fleets, “It would be a feather in your cap to have a high percentage of Gold Card drivers,” Clark says. The bragging rights would help with customers as well as potential driver recruits.

The designation would do even more for drivers. Their proven expertise should enable them to command higher pay. For younger drivers still accumulating safe miles, it would give them something to aspire to beyond tiny pay increases.

Greater flexibility for rest would also help drivers as they age. Assuming many drivers earn their card in their 40s or 50s, it would be quite welcome for those subjected to lots of nighttime driving. Studies of circadian cycles – the body’s normal daily rhythms – show that starting around age 40, it becomes much harder for people to adjust when job schedules demand night work on an irregular basis.

“If I have a bad’s night sleep, it messes me up for three or four days,” says Clark, 54.

One obvious flaw in the concept is that fleets, as well as unscrupulous drivers, could abuse the freedom from hours of service. “I would hope it’s quite a status and you wouldn’t want to risk anything,” Clark says. No doubt some fleets would exploit the advantage no matter what, but at least drivers with the card as a bargaining chip would have no trouble finding a good fleet eager to hire them.

Also, one possibility to mitigate that abuse is that such a program might have, instead of complete freedom from logs, a more liberal hours of service regimen that Gold Card drivers adhere to. For example, total on-duty hours would be limited, but times for resting would be extremely flexible.

A system like this would be only a partial solution, but a definite improvement. As it is, regulators treat drivers as helpless clones. The reality is they are varied individuals and their jobs are equally varied. Some drivers are smarter and more disciplined than others. For them, more freedom to control their difficult work schedules isn’t too much to ask.

  • Bill

    Who would put up with the status quo long enough to get to their 40’s to get this status? I wouldn’t, if I was starting out. Give the carrot up front, record vehicle activity of all to go to if there is an incident, then nail offenders. For new drivers perhaps a one or two year probation period, but beyond that we’ll be back to square one with a shortage of willing drivers. We do need to do away with the 14/16 hour forced work day to be safe.

  • jeff clark

    Bill – a lot of us already have-The idea is not to start from scratch, but to Grandfather in those who would have laready achieved

  • Jason Haggard

    Oh so you are proposing to grandfather yourself in all the while supporting many of the restrictions that the FMCSA wants to put in place on other drivers. That’s kind of a hypocritical take on things don’t you think.

    Oh some FYI on the sleep pattern issue. Doctors have already proven that no two people have the same sleep patterns and different people require different amounts of sleep regardless of their age. As a matter of fact the information was presented to the FMCSA before their last change in the HOS regulations and they chose to ignore it.

    The other problem is that your idea might sound good to some people in theory but when it comes down to enforcement it would throw a whole new set of things at LEO’s while they are still trying to grasp the rules that have already been out for a few years.

  • jeff clark

    Jason:When have I ever supported the new HOS? The fact is that I never have. Learning to deal with them is a necessity. So, while not supporting them, I have learned to deal with them. To me this is a common sense policy. Many of us “old” guys have driven safely for many years. I don’t see the logic in FMCSA telling how to do our jobs safely when we have been doing that for years,

    I totally agree on the sleep pattern thing. You are absolutely right on that. Think of all the teams that have driven safely 5 on and 5 off for years. Why should they have been forced to change. I am not sure what you mean by LEO? But, under this system they would not have HOS rules.

  • William McKelvie

    LEO, is short for LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER, Jeff. And your whole group’s purpose is to learn to live with the current laws. So, does that mean that you have stopped fighting for proper change? Or what does that statement mean exactly? Cause I for one am confused as to your groups direction. You say you fought against the new rules, but then tell Ferro the way to fix things is to go after the shippers, but you lay down and are now trying to find solutions. What are the solutions, Jeff? To just lay down and make the draconian rules work for them? Not for us surely not for us. I make calls, do the work, where do you think the letter to FOXX came from? I called Coble’s office and asked them to set up a meeting with FOXX, I got the GOOD LUCK with that one and a chuckle. Then this letter gets sent, hmmm. Yeah I am not one to just say let us work the system for us. Why? Because it does not work for more than one of us, and if it hurts any one of us in any manner, it hurts the whole industry and country. How does it hurt the country, because hard working Americans will feel in their wallets. Been grocery shopping lately? Car shopping? Hopefully you get my point.

  • Guest

    Oh come on Overdrive! So Clark is the only one of us who has spoken on flexibility? That’s some funny stuff right there!

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