Channel 19

Todd Dills

‘The center cannot hold’ — FMCSA’s hours quandary

| May 11, 2011

There is a growing feeling among industry watchers that in order to fully settle the decidedly unsettled regulatory situation surrounding the hours of service, Congress is going to have to legislate a solution.

That sentiment has come to me from industry executives, consultants, former regulatory types and, in some senses, drivers. Comments from owner-operators and others to the federal docket for the proposed hours changes have reflected a common feeling that the proposal, with its mandated breaks and extra two hours a couple times a week to accommodate for inefficient shippers, was woefully complex, so much so that compliance would be an added hurdle to for any legal hauler, even using an electronic logging device that partially automates compliance.

And the questions still looming are many — will FMCSA reduce driving hours to 10 from 11, as they said in the proposal they had a preference for doing? And never mind the July 2011 deadline for a final rule imposed on the agency by the court in settlement with safety groups back in December 2009. The latest news, of course, is that FMCSA has jumped that deadline before it ever arrived, requesting further comment on four additional studies recently added to the docket.

Take heart at least that one of those studies, “The Impact of Driving, Non-Driving Work, and Rest Breaks on Driving Performance in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operations,” conducted by the Virginia Transportation Research Institute, can be read at least in part as providing underpinning for potentially keeping the 11th hour of driving. “The results of this analysis found no statistically significant effect for the 11th driving hour,” it reads in part. “In particular, and of primary interest for this study, the 11th driving hour did not present an increase in risk of [safety-critical event] occurrence as compared to the 8th, 9th, or 10th driving hours.”

The other study that deals with truck drivers (two of the four studies added to the docket for comment dealt by contrast with bus drivers), “Hours of Service and Driver Fatigue-Driver Characteristics Research,“ conducted by the Larson Transportation Institute of Penn State University and published just this month, spent a great deal of effort looking at the restart provision, concluding there was significant coincidence of use of the 34-hour restart and crashes – truckload drivers are, the study finds, in some senses more likely to get in a crash after taking a 34-hour restart than after a normal start of day. In another part of the study, there seem to be conclusions made that are directly contrary to the Virginia conculsions about the 11th hour.

In any case, the American Trucking Associations has contended the cost-benefit analysis underpinning the new rule is based on borderline fradulent math, and if that’s true, well… Let’s just say I haven’t come to any firm conclusions about FMCSA’s intent with new studies. I’m curious to hear from any drivers with thoughts on the subject. Hit me with an email (tdills [at] rrpub [dot] com) or make notes in the comments below this post.

Watching the hours proceedings play out lately, though, I’ve definitely been reminded of that classic of 1960s-generational literature, the nonfiction Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion, in which she describes the evolving moral underpinnings of U.S. culture and their then fracturing, the title’s metaphor itself borrowed from Irish poet William Butler Yeats’ “Second Coming” poem…. “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…” By attempting to please everybody, FMCSA’s ultimately missed what center there may be between the perspective of the safety groups and industry and have just made both sides upset.

It seems that no matter what final rule emerges from the latest round of changes, lawsuits will emerge. The reason, perhaps, is that there is no political center to be had, the only center in reality being that of the status quo of the current regulations. Which, for all their flaws, seem at least to be creating an environment toward achieving that ultimate regulatory goal, preventing highway crashes ….

Thoughts?… Keep ’em coming…

Read more about the proposal here.

  • Gordon A

    Changes are of course a natural course of life. Making changes for change sake is not good.
    In many cases change is for the better but the HOS. It seems to be for changes sake and seems to change direction every time someone gets close to proving to the Government parts of it won’t work.
    FMCSA seems to have gotten away from the real reasons for HOS and are trying to find a way to cause professional to leave the industry. Keep the 34 restart.
    Allow breaks with out penalty and leave it at 11 hrs of driving.
    Allow a person to use the bunk when needed with out penalty and to allow teams to split sleeper berth.

    Unfortunately OTR drivers are penalized for working over time when all other professions are not.

    HOS is important but things have gotten out of hand. Way too much rhetoric about HOS changes will make our highways safer and that is the reason for the HOS changes.
    That is a lot of hooey. How you log your work time does not make you a safer driver. NO matter how it is logged or how many hours you work many still tailgate, speed, cutting off other vehicles when passing and are still stupid .
    Logging and how it is done will not effect how a person drives or how the person next to the truck drives.
    Independent and Government studies show that 85% to 89% of car truck accidents are caused by the car driver.
    How about the Government and local LEO enforce the rules on car drivers in addition to truck drivers. Is the Government afraid of the findings?.Do they think truck drovers do not vote? Of course they are and La Hood is doing his best to keep the truth from the American driver. They probably think the average and below average driver in America can’t handle the information or the slap on the wrists for being a stupid unsafe driver.
    To help get rid of the bad drivers put cameras on your truck and video record the traffic around you. It is hard to disprove the video.
    When the law makers begin to listen to the drivers and the ones that do the job they are attempting to re regulate only then will we get positive workable change. Until then we are going to continue to be considered unskilled labor.

    One important thing to see here is that not all truck drivers are cut out to be truck drivers. The professional drives make it look easy and to the outsider they think anyone can do this job. Not so. You either have what it takes or you don’t.
    Professional drivers are seldom noticed.
    We do not do things to be noticed for.
    It is the non professional drivers that are noticed by cutting another vehicle off after passing or tailgating or speeding or other non safe driving habits.
    Correcting these habits or eliminating these drivers will make our highways safer. It is not all truck drivers that have these bad habits all drivers.
    Remember that NOBODY in the real works get 10 hrs of rest each night. NO BODY Not even the ones that are pushing for it.
    Team driving works for a lot of drivers.
    I personally require only 5 to 6 hrs sleep a night. It’s been that way for over 50 years. I cannot change it.
    All of these changes before us are because of a few unqualified, lazy, accident prone dumpster diver drivers.

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  • William McKelvie

    Gordon, you points are correct. Dumpster drivers, funny!! I am tired of Anne Ferro just going about her merry way and not consulting the experienced real life drivers. She wants push button dummies, and is getting them. Idiots following GPS right under the bridges that are marked low clearance and right onto the parkways of NY that clearly say NO TRUCKS in letters and pictures. Thanks FMCSA……………. NOT. strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.