The 11th Hour

New hours-of-service rule combines 11 hours of driving, less duty, more rest, 24-hour cycle, reset period.

Come Jan. 4, truckers will begin operating under new hours-of-service regulations that allow 11 consecutive hours of driving but will also force them to take at least 10 consecutive hours off.

The revision is “the first major change of the hours-of-service rule in almost 65 years – a change that will make our nation’s highways much safer,” said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, who announced the rule April 24.

The total number of hours drivers can work in a shift will drop from 15 to 14. That 14-hour on-duty period allows for a maximum of 11 hours of driving time and three hours of on-duty, non-driving time for loading, waiting or other activities before they must rest. Sleeper birth splits still exist, but have been conformed to the new hours.

A driver also can still drive 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. However, a driver can also restart his week if he takes 34 consecutive hours off.

The original rule was enacted in the late 1930s to prevent accidents and address labor concerns. It has avoided any major changes despite major evolutions of trucks, the Interstate Highway System and full-service truck stops.

Acting Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Annette Sandberg said the agency took into account those changes, as well as thousands of comments filed after a revised rule was proposed three years ago. “The (new) rule strikes a balance between uniform, consistent enforcement and the need for operational flexibility,” she said.
The current rule allows a driver to be on duty for a maximum of 15 hours, with only 10 hours of driving, before an eight-hour break. A driver could technically drive up to 16 hours in a 24-hour period under the rule if he drove 10, slept eight and drove six. The new rule allows a driver to drive 11 hours, take 10 off, and squeeze in another three hours of driving in a 24-hour period.

A driver who used the 14-hour on-duty period and rested for 10 hours would remain on a 24-hour work-and-rest cycle, which FMCSA says is the ideal, according to fatigue science. Future rulemakings will move drivers further towards a normal, Circadian rhythm, Sandberg said.

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Michael McRay, a driver with Cannon Express, said the changes won’t help much. “You get one hour, then you give two,” he said, referring to the two extra hours of mandatory rest. “What good is that?”

“It’s not going to make any difference for a team, but for a single guy, that extra hour could be very valuable,” said Gordon Doncic, an owner-operator leased to FedEx Custom Critical. “You get that extra hour, but you have to sit longer, and that’s not good.”

The rule fails to address shippers and carriers who force drivers to drive unsafe schedules or wait long hours at docks, says Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association President Jim Johnson. “After almost 65 years of working with regulatory controls that should have been declared obsolete decades ago, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a revision to address today’s problems,” he says.
Johnson says OOIDA “is grateful to FMCSA for abandoning the most disturbing parts of its initial hours-of-service proposal, especially the proposal for 24-hour-a-day electronic surveillance of drivers.”

FMCSA says it did not include recorders due to cost, privacy and other concerns. The final rule calls for further study of electronic onboard recorders. If they are eventually approved, the agency says, they will need to identify individual users, resist tampering, produce records for audit, offer easy access to log records to roadside enforcement officials, achieve acceptability among drivers and be cost-effective.

FMCSA considered three plans in coming up with its final rule: one from the American Trucking Associations, one from Parents Against Tired Truckers, and one created internally. It determined that ATA’s proposal didn’t save enough lives and one from PATT, while it saved more lives than FMCSA’s plan, cost too much. FMCSA says its final rule strikes a medium between the PATT and ATA plans.

The compromise didn’t make PATT happy, however. PATT founder Daphne Izer says allowing truckers to drive 11 hours is too much. “Ten hours is too much,” she said. “Studies show after eight hours of driving the number accidents go up.” Also, she says, “Onboard recorders are a must.”

The plan drew objections from the Teamsters. “It’s already a lot to have 10 hours of driving time,” says spokesman Rob Black. “When you add an hour, that can only make for drivers who are more fatigued. A driver that is fatigued is not as safe.”

The rule “is a good mixture of common sense and sound science,” says Bill Graves, American Trucking Associations president and CEO. “It will allow us to meet the real-world operational needs of the trucking industry and most importantly, do so safely.”
FMCSA officials say the rule will save as many as 75 lives a year, but as few as 24. Even 75 is a small percentage of the 4,902 fatalities from large truck crashes that occurred in 2002, according to preliminary data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Nevertheless, the officials also said trucking companies would achieve a net productivity gain of more than $1 billion in savings from fewer accidents, fewer deaths, lower insurance costs and other factors. Their economic analysis also suggested revenue improvements due to the longer driving shift, which could save carriers from hiring 48,000 drivers.

Unlike the proposal in 2000, the new rule is final. Plans to implement the changes will begin immediately, although truckers will continue to operate under the old rule for eight months while FMCSA trains more than 8,000 investigators, inspectors and auditors on the new rule.