Rest in Pieces

Todd Dills | February 01, 2012

The new hours of service rule further complicates off-duty requirements in ways that could hurt productivity, though some flexibility is added.

The release of the new hours of service final rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration raises questions about operational efficiency and adds more complexity in certain situations.

Overnight parking at truck stops could get more crowded after July 1, 2013, when 34-hour restarts must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods.

Perhaps the most controversial change, and one that could limit productivity the most, has to do with restrictions on the 34-hour restart. The final rule restricts use of the restart to once per week, and it must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. FMCSA acknowledges this is an attempt to reduce fatigue by pushing schedules more toward conformity with circadian body rhythms. Under the current rule, the restart can be used as often as desired, and the 34 hours can begin at any time.

The new rule requires a 30-minute off-duty break after any eight-hour driving period. The agency kept the 11th hour of driving. That surprised some, as FMCSA had indicated it favored a reduction to 10 hours.

Among changes mostly favorable to owner-operators were minor adjustments to the definition of on-duty time, which provide clarity for team drivers and daycab operators resting in parked trucks. The new regs make it legal to log two hours of off-duty time in the passenger seat before or after eight hours in the sleeper. It is now also legal to rest off-duty in a parked truck and log it as such, whether you’re in a sleeper berth or not.

Ruan Transport driver Shawn Hubbard sees the imposition of the restart’s mandatory early morning rest periods as costing him a potential $200 a week. He has a six-night-a-week graveyard shift schedule, driving usually within a 100-mile radius of his home in Southern California.

To continue the six-day schedule, he notes, he’d have to take two days off to satisfy the night-period restart requirements. Working six days on, two off – an eight-day cycle – would not mesh with his weekly dedicated operation, delivering to Target stores, or his schedule of classes he’s taking toward a bachelor’s degree.

“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.

“The people making the rules have no idea. They’ve never sat in a truck or lived in a truck,” Hubbard says. “They’ve never seen the realities of the road and the reality of shipper and receiver locations.”

That sentiment is echoed by independent Mike Crawford, Overdrive’s 2010 Trucker of the Year, who runs long-haul on a dedicated contract with Prime Inc.’s logistics arm. 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.”

Limiting the restart to one per week will also disrupt other operations. The current restart for cross-country haulers is less a tool for maximizing hours and more one that provides great operational flexibility, says Jay Thompson, president of Transportation Business Associates. “They run across the country and often reset on either end, whether [they’re] close on hours limits or not,” he says.

Restarting around shipper/receiver delays ensures the driver will be able to get back across the nation without a delay on the return trip, he notes. Without that flexibility, restart changes “could have a big impact on the most productive truckers,” those running above 2,300 miles a week, he adds.

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