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.

The impact of restart changes on weekly drive time for operators at flatbed fleet Long Haul Trucking will be minimal, says Safety Director Mark Theis, “unless it is more of a dedicated run.” Even so, he says he still understands the exasperation of so many. “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.  

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

 

Industry down on new rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration once again has left many groups unhappy with an hours of service revision.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association charged that the new provisions will have no impact on highway safety but plenty on the “lives and livelihoods of small-business truckers,” said Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “The changes are unnecessary and unwelcome.”

Spencer called for more flexibility for drivers to truly improve highway safety. “Compliance with any regulation is already a challenge because everyone else in the supply chain is free to waste the driver’s time loading or unloading with no accountability,” he said. “The hours of service regulations should instead be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when rested and not penalize them for doing so. It’s the only way to reach significant gains in highway safety and reduce non-compliance.”

The Truck Safety Coalition calls the 11th hour of driving “one of the most unsafe provisions of the former rule,” accusing FMCSA of bowing to industry interests by retaining it. The coalition also calls for eliminating the 34-hour restart altogether.

The American Trucking Associations called the rule’s new provisions “unsurprising. What is surprising and new to us,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves, “is that for the first time in the agency’s history, FMCSA has chosen to eschew a stream of positive safety data and cave in to a vocal anti-truck minority and issue a rule that will have no positive impact on safety.”

ATA has said it is researching potential legal options, though industry watcher Jay Thompson bets challenges come from other quarters first. Safety advocacy groups, he says, are most likely to issue any challenges.

 

Interpreting the new rule can be challenging

Interpreting all the nuances of the hours of service final rule isn’t always easy, says Rich Wilson of Trans Products/Trans Services, a safety services company. That’s no surprise, considering the document is 212 pages long.

Wilson gives as an example the change in definition of on duty time to exclude time resting in a parked truck. The rigidity of the 14-hour clock remains in place with few exceptions, but Wilson charged that FMCSA hadn’t directly addressed practical questions about how parked rest might relate to it. “If I write on my log, ‘Parked,’ does that stretch my 14-hour clock out? Do I pick up all this time because I’m resting?” he asked.

In FMCSA’s justification of the rule, the agency spells out a scenario that addresses this question, and the answer is no: “With the 14-hour limit, it is unlikely that either the carrier or driver will want the driver to spend extended periods off duty in a parked truck during the duty day because all of the time counts against the 14-hour period.”

But on other questions, Wilson said in early January, “I’m just waiting to get some definitive confirmation on what is right or wrong because I can’t even go out and teach this rule right now.”

The challenge in understanding the rule’s implications is just as great for owner-operators. Overdrive 2007 Trucker of the Year Henry Albert read the explanation of the occasional inability at roadside to verify driver compliance with the limitation of one restart every 168 hours (seven days), included in the rule. He asked himself: If drivers are required to keep in the truck seven past days of logs, plus the current day, what exactly is the problem with enforcement?

Albert and others then questioned the intent of the restart, and whether it was truly limited to “once every 168 hours.” If a driver begins a 34-hour restart period at 11 p.m. on Friday, would he be able to begin another one as early as 11 p.m. on the following Friday — 168 hours after beginning the restart? Or would he have to wait until 9 a.m. Sunday morning — 168 hours after concluding the restart?

FMCSA points out that an answer’s spelled out in the rule to allow for another restart when “168 or more consecutive hours have passed since the beginning of the last such off duty period.” That answer, of course, is buried in the language of the regulatory code in the Federal Register, not exactly easy to find.

Then there are areas where the rule can be clear, while failing to address certain situations. For example, Linda Caffee, who hauls team with her husband, Bob, notes that the requirement for a 30-minute break after eight hours of driving holds the potential to disrupt operations on certain high security loads.

“Many loads require dual driver protection, and this requires one driver to be on duty at all times watching the freight,” she says. “In order to take the half-hour break, the other driver would have to come on duty, which would start their clock,” if the driver could even legally do so.

Regarding that break, the new rule allows only haulers of certain classes of explosives to “count on-duty time spent attending the CMV, but doing no other on-duty work, toward the break.” However, explosives do not constitute the only freight where the carrier or shipper requires on-duty driver attendance of the load, Caffee notes.

“The only way on these loads is to go into a safe haven and hand over the control of the load to an observer,” she says. Safe havens, typically a carrier yard or other secure facility, will typically have “a fence and a full-time guard.”  

Will the 30-minute breaks thus create a market for safe havens on the highways? Caffee asks. “Who is going to pay for the extra miles, the extra time” to get to the safe havens? “If there comes to be a market for this, there will also be a fee associated.”

 

HOURS CHANGES AT A GLANCE

Current rule

Daily driving limit –11 hours

Breaks within drive time –None mandated

34-hour restart driving –No restrictions

34-hour restart frequency –Can be taken as often as needed

On-duty time –Includes any time in truck except sleeper berth

Penalties –Definition of “egregious” violations not specified

Final rule

Daily driving limit –11 hours

Breaks within drive time –Minimum 30-minute mandatory off-duty time after every eight hours on duty

34-hour restart timing –Must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods

43-hour restart requency –Limitation to one per week

On-duty time –Does not include any time resting in a parked truck. For team drivers, two hours in passenger seat of a moving truck immediately before or after eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth is allowed off duty.

Penalties — “Egregious” violation defined as driving three or more hours beyond limits; maximum civil penalties can be levied on drivers and carriers (if proved complicit) for such a violation.