Shifting Times

Leona Dalley, supervisor of the Port of Entry in Perry, Utah, clarifies changes made to the hours-of-service rule to Duwayne Houde, an owner-operator from South Dakota.

By the morning of Jan. 6, Monte Thompson was well into his first run of 2004, hauling a load for Jim Palmer Trucking from Missoula, Mont. to Spokane, Wash. More significantly, Thompson had filled out his first log under the revised hours-of-service rule.

“I hope I did it right,” Thompson said. “I think I did it right, but I don’t know. I’m not supposed to take more than 15 minutes to turnaround. But you know what happened, sometimes that runs to hours, and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that yet. I need to go through it a few times to find out the best way.”

More than 3 million truck drivers kicked off the New Year under the new regulations, many with spotty or non-existent training on the revisions to the rule, which took seven years to write and eight months to implement. The rule changes, which replaced nearly 70 years of history and industry practice overnight, left many drivers confused during its first few days of operation.

“I don’t know how to log it,” said Jim Payne of Denton, Ky., who drives for an owner-operator leased to a large carrier. “I’ve had no training. I will use three log books if necessary. I’m not going to starve out here.”

Payne joined a chorus of complaints by truckers eating at the diner in a TravelCenters of America near Greensboro, N.C. Lisa Rasko, who quit driving in December before the rule went into effect, says she’d keep driving if the old rule was still in effect. “I’m going to stay home with the kids,” she said.

New Jersey owner-operator Frank Davis, who is leased to Quality Carriers, says he was shut down at the same TA because his load of molasses took too long to unload. Under the new rule, truckers will have a more difficult time logging loading and unloading time as off-duty or sleeper berth time. For most operators, the rule requires all work – including driving, fueling and loading – to be completed in a 14-hour window after a trucker comes on duty. Under the old rule, drivers waiting at shippers and receivers typically logged the time as off-duty or sleeper berth.

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“It can take up to 10 hours to unload a tank,” Davis said. “How am I going to drive my 11 hours if I start logging when I load? I’ve lost [at least] eight hours just loading.”

But not all drivers were in a quandary because of the new rule. PFT Roberson flatbedder Derry Kingston came back from his holiday break to start under the new HOS 48 hours after the new rules kicked in. “I haven’t seen any problems, and the guys I’ve been talking to out here really haven’t had any either,” Kingston says. “I’m pretty optimistic I won’t have too much trouble with it.”

Trucker Stephen Shields, who hauls flatbed for Boyd Bros., took a load of cast iron pipes from Birmingham, Ala., to Richmond, Va., on his first trip. Shields, who was accompanied by a Truckers News editor, saw few problems on what was an easy load. “I’m not one of those guys who complained about the change,” he said. “But I am worried about it. Right now, I’m worried about finding parking in South Carolina.”

But South Carolina proved to be an easy state to find parking in as most of the rest areas were half-full and the Wilco truckstop on the North Carolina state line had plenty of space at 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 6. Ten hours after shutdown, however, the parking lot was busy with truckers trying to complete their 10 consecutive hours off. “You wouldn’t ordinarily see this many trucks in here at this time of the morning,” Shields said.

At the carrier level, dispatchers and fleet personnel reported few problems. Doug Albright at Barr-Nunn Transportation said the company had benefited from having about 60 percent of their drivers testing the new rules before they came into operation. “We’re really only seeing minor problems,” Albright said. “We’re having to re-route some of our dedicated stuff, but it’s not a major concern. But we worked most of the kinks out of our long haul routes before the new rules came into effect, and we feel pretty confident about them.”

Except for answering a few questions from drivers, Jan. 5 was business as usual in Logan, Utah, for L.W. Miller Transportation. To make the smooth transition to the new HOS rule, managers of the 200-truck fleet began training drivers and dispatchers on the changes in September. But despite the certainty of the rules for drivers, many questions were still unanswered about how the new rules will impact the bottom line.

“It’s a serious situation. I’m very concerned,” said Larry Miller, company president. L.W. Miller was one of dozens of fleets nationwide that added detention pay or improved per-mile wages to offset driver losses. For the carriers, it’s still too early to tell how big of a problem the new rule is. Many hope to recoup losses from shippers and receivers through new charges and higher rates. “It’s a new mindset for shippers and receivers,” Miller said. “If we get cooperation, and shippers pay the detention charge, we can live with it.”

Getting Educated
Enforcement officials promise assistance with new rule as drivers decry lack of training

If there was a recurring theme in the first week of the new hours of service rule, it was that drivers and even some enforcement officials didn’t fully understand the rule.

As most drivers came back to work under the new rule Jan. 5, confusion took its toll. Owner-operator Howard Ross, who had just crawled out of his bunk at a Pilot truckstop in Youngstown, Ohio, said his carrier had not given him any training about the split sleeper berth regulations. He said he would have to figure out those complicated aspects of the log as situations arose.

His story was echoed at truckstops in Virginia and North Carolina and at weigh stations across the country. A spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says a toll-free number it set up to answer questions about the rule was receiving between 150 and 200 calls a day. The agency is running the phone service, (800) 598-5664, 24 hours a day.

Trucker Don Rowlett, a 26-year veteran of the road, didn’t call the number for advice but found help filling out his first log book in the unlikeliest of places – a Virginia scale house. The FMCSA is asking state enforcement officials to write warnings instead of tickets for minor violations and to provide educational help until the rule has been in place 60 days.
“I asked him about taking a break when I want to eat or need a nap and he showed me the best way to log it,” Rowlett said. Rowlett’s company, M&M Cartage, scheduled a training session in December, but cancelled it and asked drivers to find out how to log on their own.

Other drivers, like Phil McAfee, a company driver for Star Transportation out of Nashville, Tenn., received training from their companies. McAfee said his company had offered classes on the new rule as early as November. McAfee said he likes the 10-hour break but is concerned that the 14-hour work clock will cause problems. “There’s no slack at the dock under the new rules, and if I get held up there and my next delivery is a little farther than my clock lets me run, they’re going to have to wait,” he said. “The only thing I can do is take part of my split sleeper at the dock whenever I can.”

Kerry Kearl, vice president of company fleets for Crete Carrier, says most of the problems being called into the company by drivers involve “a little confusion here and there.” Over the last three months of last year Crete, he said, put a lot of effort into educating drivers.

“One problem was that the enforcement arm [of government] hadn’t decided how to reference problems they came across,” Kearl said. “So we pressed our drivers to be extra careful and to attract the least attention, especially when it comes to the split sleeper provisions. We decided to take the high road and establish our reputation early as following the new rules and regulations.”

Drivers weren’t the only ones confused by the new rule. Drivers in several states reported problems with law enforcement officials who didn’t understand the rule or who admitted they hadn’t finished their training yet. And some shippers were also having problems with the new rule.

Crete, Kearl said, was getting calls from customers who did not know how the new hours-of-service rule would affect their delivery times and “we’re actively working with them and explaining what we have to deal with and how we can make the best of it working together.”

– John Latta, Tim Barton, Aaron Huff and Sean Kelley contributed to this report.

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