When the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 4, ending the 70-year-old hours-of-service rule, owner-operator Monty Rhoades won’t be among the thousands of American truckers figuring out how to log time under the new rule. Instead, the 34-year veteran of the road hopes to make money hauling some of the less-than-truckload freight he expects will be stranded by truckers who have run out of operating hours.
“I’m no longer under the regulations,” says Rhoades, who now drives a Sprinter van for Landstar Express and is exempt because his vehicle grosses less than 10,000 pounds. “The very reason I moved in the first place was I saw an opportunity to work better without them. The 14-hour rule is really going to put a hurt on people. There’s a lot of freight stranded around the country that I’m going to rescue.”
The new hours-of-service rule features provisions that owner-operators fear will leave them out of hours, stuck in unexpected places and lighter in the wallet. Others, like Rhoades, see opportunities, such as the potential for more driving hours. How this significant change to the rule will affect you depends on several factors, including your kind of haul, foresight in your scheduling, how aggressively you approach the new regulations, and the efforts of carriers and shippers to mitigate waiting times.
Under the changed law, you:
There are exceptions and exemptions, as there were under the old rule. The most perplexing is a split sleeper berth exception, which allows a driver to avoid the 14-hour provision. Drivers who do not split sleeper berth time must count every hour after they begin their day as on-duty time, a prospect that has drivers worried about being able to finish their loads. For example, a driver who does not split sleeper berth time and who starts his day at 6 a.m. after at least 10 consecutive hours off must be off the road by 8 p.m.
Ohio trucker Rocky Woodie knows he’ll be challenged to get his trips completed within the 14-hour window. “I’m concerned about getting in and out of a shipper or receiver in time,” Woodie says. “The way the log book works now, if you’re hung up, you can still get your 10 hours on the road. You can stretch your day now, but you won’t be able to do that under the new rule. You’ve got to get off-loaded as soon as possible and get on the road.”
Under the old rule, detention time often could be made up on the road, but a trucker’s flexibility will be pinched by the new 14-hour provision. Time spent fueling, waiting, eating – even time in the sleeper berth – will count toward that 14-hour window unless a driver is employing the split berth exception.
Betsy Kimball, an owner-operator from Bonner Springs, Kan., says her company, which hauls mail for the U.S. Postal Service, hasn’t figured out how it will change its routes to deal with the provisions, but her pay won’t be impacted because she is hourly. Her husband, an owner-operator leased to an LTL fleet, is worried about getting stranded on his route. “With his run, he has to wait for drivers to bring freight from different locations in Wichita and Salina, Kan.,” she says. “Sometimes these layovers run upwards of four hours. The way the new rule is written, he will not be able to run his current route. He will run out of hours before he can finish.”
Carriers and drivers are worried that waiting time will harm productivity under the rule. “I think we are all worried about losing money,” says Pat Huffman, a company driver based in Des Moines, Iowa. Some carriers are aware of the problem and are raising rates, paying detention and, in some cases, even adding stop pay for truckload drivers who must make multiple deliveries. “Drivers recognize the lost time in waiting and loading at shippers and consignees,” says Lisa Ellman, director of Schneider National’s recruiting operations. “If I can’t keep my wheels running, I can’t make money.”
Schneider has announced a major pay increase, and some other big carriers were expected to follow suit by year-end to coincide with the start of the new rule, although Schneider says its increase is as much about driver retention and recruitment as it is about compensation for lost income. Other fleets link pay raises directly to the rule; American Central Transport, for example, may raise owner-operator pay by a penny, to 86 cents a mile, and will recoup that cost from shippers and receivers who detain drivers.
“Our new pay package for owner-operators is still being formulated,” says Tom Kretsinger Jr., executive vice president at ACT. “But we’re going to standardize detention pay. We’re also looking at other things that are irritants to drivers, like tolls and stop-off pay.”
Still, owner-operators should be prepared for smaller paychecks, say Todd and Jeff Amen of American Truck Business Services. “There are frighteningly few carriers out there that understand the financial impact of the regulations,” Todd Amen says. “When you’ve got billion-dollar corporations that don’t understand the impact, what is a little owner-operator going to know?”
“We’re encouraging these guys to find out what their fleets think productivity losses will be and what, if any, changes are going to be made to offset losses to the driver,” Jeff Amen says.
Drivers should work extra and save as much as possible to prepare for whatever productivity loss may occur. The Amens recommend putting off major maintenance in the first quarter and postponing any vacation or off time, even during the holidays. “You can pocket a whole lot of money if you work hard through the end of the fourth quarter,” Jeff Amen says.
At big carriers, owner-operators may see an income boost from increased per-mile pay, as well as in stoppage and detention pay. (Midsize and smaller fleets may have trouble getting shippers and receivers to play along, Jeff Amen says.) And another provision of the rule could help drivers add miles. The rule allows drivers to restart their week after 34 consecutive hours off duty. Drivers operating on a 70-hour, eight-day week can reset their week if they take 34 consecutive hours off. (This is also true for drivers operating on a 60-hour, seven-day week.)
The 34-hour reset can work for or against drivers. For workaholics, the measure is seemingly better than the old rule, where drivers were prohibited from working more than 70 hours in the same period. The new rule allows a driver who drives 11 hours a day and logs three hours on-duty, non-driving, to drive as many as 77 hours in eight days by using the reset, for a total of 98 hours on-duty.
“I think I’ll be able to get more miles,” says Lance Wood, a J.B. Hunt driver from St. Louis. “I’m looking at making more money. The only thing that holds me up right now is the 70-hour rule. I’ll have three hours today and only four tomorrow because of that.”
But most drivers are thinking less about the extra time in the seat and more about being forced to cool their heels for 34 hours by a fleet intent on resetting their hours. “One of the rumors they’ve heard is when they reach 70, they’re going to be stranded,” says Jim Kitchen, a training curriculum designer for Schneider. “They don’t look at the 34-hour reset as an advantage.”
“The way some companies operate, I can see them leaving drivers to sit for a day and a half when that driver starts bumping the 60/70 hour clock in order for that driver to regain his full hours,” says trucker Jim Heaton, an owner-operator from Mattoon, Ill. “That down time (will be seen) as time off, even though the driver was not at home or a location of his choosing.”
But trucker Lance Wood says he gets stranded under the current rule. “I might as well sit for 10 more hours under the new rule,” Wood says. “It might not be the ideal location, but I can get on the road as soon as the time is up.”
Drivers have other concerns about the rule, especially on routes that now require 10 hours of driving in addition to on-duty time. Where a harried driver could log a break or a nap as off-duty time under the old rule, the clock keeps running for those stops under the new rule. “The 14-hour rule discourages drivers from taking breaks,” Heaton says. “Instead of stopping for a 15-minute break once or twice a day and stopping for an hour for lunch, drivers will be pushing through that time trying to get in as many miles as possible.”
Parking problems may also be worse under the change as drivers are forced to park for longer periods. A typical stop under the current rule may last about eight hours. But beginning Jan. 4, drivers will be stuck at least 10 hours – and 34 hours when a week is reset – in one location. The truck stop industry isn’t sure whether that will be a big issue, says Lisa Mullings, spokesperson for NATSO, the truck stop trade group.
“Parking is always a problem,” says American Central Transport’s Kretsinger. “We have to deal with issues we can control. I’m not sure it’s an issue we can deal with.”
Indeed, truckers will have to deal with whatever problems crop up on Jan. 4, whether it’s logging 14 hours on duty or 34 off. Owner-operator Jim Heaton says the industry will evolve with the rule change, but he doubts it will improve safety.
“The new hours of service look real good on paper, but they will do little towards solving the problems they are written to solve – driver fatigue and log book falsification,” he says. Owner-operator Betsy Kimball agrees: “If someone is cheating on their logs now, they will cheat on their logs when the hours of service change.”
SPLIT SLEEPER EXCEPTION CONFUSING
After the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced changes to the hours-of-service rule, the sleeper berth exception received a lot of attention. “It’s pretty confusing for solo drivers in our fleet, mainly because they haven’t gotten involved at all in split breaking,” Schneider National’s Jim Kitchen says.
But they may have to now, if shippers are unable or unwilling to speed up waiting times. Muddled language and revision have left many drivers and carriers confused about the sleeper berth provision; even law enforcement seems to be uncertain about certain aspects of the rule.
Under the revision, a driver can split his 10 hours of rest by using the sleeper berth, thereby extending his on-duty period beyond the 14th hour. A similar provision under the old rule allowed such splits, but the new rule is much more stringent. To be eligible, a sleeper berth time must last at least two hours, all of which must be spent in the sleeper; also, it must be accompanied by a second sleeper berth period that brings the total off-duty time to 10 hours. Additional sleeper berth periods count as on-duty time.
One troublesome scenario illustrates the confusion: A driver, following a 10-hour off-duty period, drives for five hours, takes five hours off in his sleeper berth, then drives an additional five hours. The driver plans to return to the sleeper to fulfill the sleeper berth exception, yet more than 14 hours have passed since he started his day. Will he be placed out of service for violating the 14-hour on-duty rule if a trooper stops him prior to starting the second sleeper berth period?
FMCSA told enforcement officials that as long as the driver logs a corresponding sleeper berth period, he will not be placed out of service. Failure to follow up with a sleeper berth period could result in a violation, however. This scenario is tricky because it requires a driver, who may be going off-duty for 10 hours, to log his time as sleeper berth time and spend at least five hours in the sleeper.
“This is confusing even for the agency that issued the rule. In a September clarification of the sleeper berth exception, FMCSA provided an example of how the exception works, though it portrayed a driver who had driven for 12 hours, when the rule only allows 11. [FMCSA officials did not return calls placed by Overdrive seeking clarification.]
Trucker Jim Heaton worries that drivers who never split before are going to be forced to split sleeper berth time now to make up for delays at shippers and receivers. Because of the 14-hour provision, any time spent waiting is considered on-duty, whereas under the current rule a driver might log it as off-duty.
“Drivers are going to be logging most, if not all the dock time in the sleeper berth regardless of where they are or what they are doing in order to stop that 14-hour clock from ticking,” Heaton says. “This is going to lead to drivers running longer hours, with less rest.”