Rest in Pieces

Todd Dills | February 01, 2012

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.”

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