A New Game Plan

By Randy Grider
[email protected]

Scrap it.

That’s right, take the hours-of-service rule and scrap it. Let’s quit propping it up and tinkering with it. It’s archaic. It has run its course of usefulness, and it’s time for a new system.

There’s too much room for fudging on the part of the few unethical drivers and too much room for liberal interpretation on the part of some law enforcement. Those who don’t play by the rules create a chaotic atmosphere that leaves the trucking industry vulnerable.

But most of all, the current system doesn’t make sense. Think about it. It’s based for the most part on miles, but enforced by hours. Apples and oranges.

No matter how you slice it, the distance and time scenario creates an unfair playing field. And the players most negatively affected in the bizarre game of numbers are the good drivers.

Let’s start a new game with new rules. First, we have to repeal the exemption from the 1937 Fair Labor Act, which exempts drivers from the hourly pay regulation. Next, we need to reclassify drivers as skilled labor.

We must now adjust the pay scale to reflect a decent salary or hourly wage for these professionals who are so vital to the economy. These adjustments won’t come cheap, but that’s the price of being in the game. Higher rates, courtesy of the consumers who need the goods, will bankroll the new system.

OK, I know I’m being a little unrealistic, but the recent appeal of the new hours rule only muddies the waters of what is already a muddled transportation system. Advocacy groups like Public Citizen, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways have been the catalyst for changes in trucking for years. While I find their overall message to be anti-trucking, some parts of their agenda could make life in the long run better for truckers. For example, the system shouldn’t force drivers to run harder and farther in order to pay the bills.

I’m realistic enough to know that our economic infrastructure won’t support a wholesale revolution. But Band-Aid measures won’t cure what ails this industry. We need to start in a direction that encompasses safety, lifestyle and the livelihood of drivers.

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Those drawing up rules and making decisions for truckers need to consider some important facts.

First, truck drivers are essential to everyone’s prosperity. I don’t know of anyone in this country who is self-sufficient enough to not rely on truckers moving goods.

Two, they are in a field that should require them to be highly trained professionals. While holding them to high standards, we should treat them as such. Everyone who doesn’t possess the training and ability to operate an 80,000-pound piece of moving equipment should remember this.

And finally, while most truckers enjoy their profession, they don’t live to work. They work to live like everyone else. It is ridiculous that some work 80 hours a week for what amounts to 40 hours of pay or less. I know there are a lot of truckers who make a decent living without having to work themselves to death, but there are just as many who do.

A big problem with finding the best solution rests with drivers themselves. Often, they are their own worst enemy. The miles-based pay and its pie-in-the-sky perceptions cloud reality. Many drivers would be better off in the long run to be paid hourly. But drivers are also suspect of the accountability procedures that would have to come with hourly pay.

Still, I would not be so opposed to the mileage system if it could be adequately supported by hourly pay for non-driving duties. Some companies do this already. Many others don’t or can’t.

It’s simply a fact that the current hours rule wasn’t designed for today’s trucking industry.

Some truckers are in operations that allow them to make a decent living without being punished with an overload of work time and regulatory demands. But they are not the majority.

Agree or disagree with what’s the best solution, I think almost every driver is in accord that today’s industry numbers game doesn’t make sense. I know we won’t get a clean slate for the next attempt at a new hours rule, but it’s time to at least start cleaning up the board.

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