The Hours at Hand

When Ohio trucker Rocky Woodie cranks his rig on Jan. 4, he knows he’ll be challenged to get his trip completed within 14 hours – the work period mandated by the revised hours-of-service rule.

“I’m concerned about getting in and out of a shipper or receiver in time,” Woodie says. “You’ve now got to get off-loaded as soon as possible and get on the road.”

Woodie’s company, American Central Transport, has spent months planning for the shorter workday and other changes in the decades-old hours-of-service rule. Those changes, which go into effect at 12 a.m. on Jan. 4, also allow truckers to drive 11 hours instead of 10 and, in most cases, require 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time. But the hours of service rule revisions are just part of a myriad of government regulations that will affect drivers in the new year. Among the others:

  • An increase in out-of-service fees
  • New standards for tarping and securing loads
  • Background checks for drivers with hazardous material endorsements.

    There are other changes at the local level including new fuel and truck taxes as well as new tolls.

    But no change is more cumbersome, expensive or worrisome than the new hours-of-service revision. By now, most truckers know the basics: 14 hours of on-duty time instead of 15, 11 hours of driving instead of 10 and 10 consecutive hours of rest instead of eight. But many are still bothered by the particulars, especially a provision that allows drivers to reset their weekly hours after 34 hours off duty and sleeper berth splitting, which few solo drivers had to take advantage of under the old rule.

    Under the new rule, drivers operating on a 70-hour, eight-day week can reset their week if they take 34 consecutive hours off. 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, for a total of 98 hours logged on duty. Most drivers aren’t as worried about the extra time in the seat as they are worried about being stranded 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 veteran trucker and training curriculum designer for Schneider National. “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 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.”

    While drivers are leery of the 34-hour reset, they’re downright confused about the sleeper berth provision; even law enforcement is confused and received a clarification on the sleeper berth provision from the FMCSA in September. “It’s pretty confusing for solo drivers in our fleet, mainly because they haven’t gotten involved at all in split breaking,” Kitchen says.
    Here’s how the sleeper berth exceptions works:

  • No Split Sleeper Berth: Under the changes, a driver’s 14-hour day begins when he starts his pretrip after at least 10 consecutive hours off. Once the clock starts, he has 14 hours before he must shut down again. Time spent fueling, eating, waiting, driving – even showering – that occurs after that clock starts counts towards the total 14 hours, so that a driver who begins his day at 6 a.m. is finished by 8 p.m.
  • Split Sleeper Berth: Under the revisions, a driver can split his 10 hours of rest by using the sleeper berth, extending his day beyond the 14th hour. A similar provision under the old rule allowed such splits, but the new rule is much more stringent. To count, a sleeper berth time must last at least two hours, all of which must be spent in the sleeper. Drivers must take two sleeper berth periods that equal 10 hours. Additional sleeper berth periods count as on-duty time.

    The sleeper berth exception has caused confusion because of muddled language and the 14th-hour provision. Carriers are worried that misinterpretation will cause loads to be stranded, and drivers are afraid of out-of-service fines. One troublesome scenario, which has come up in seminars, teleconferences and on bulletin boards, illustrates the confusion:

    When 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, will he be placed out of service for violating the 14th hour rule if he’s stopped prior to taking his second sleeper berth period? Under this situation, the driver is switching to the sleeper berth exception, yet hasn’t fulfilled the sleeper berth qualifications and more than 14 hours have passed since he started his day.

    FMCSA, which was queried on this issue, has 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 probably confusing for some people,” Woodie says. (In a September clarification of the sleeper berth exception, FMCSA provided an example of how the sleeper berth exception works. The only problem is the example was wrong, portraying a driver who had driven for 12 hours, when the rule only allows 11.)

    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 clock provision, any time spent waiting is time on-duty, where a driver might have logged it as off-duty time in the past.

    “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.”

    The country’s biggest truckload carrier, Schneider National, began training its more than 15,000 drivers and owner-operators on the new rule this fall. The company currently allows only teams to split their sleeper berth, but began training solo drivers on the sleeper berth exception in November because in some situations, drivers may want to take advantage of it, Kitchen says.

    For drivers not using the sleeper berth exception, there are other concerns, especially on routes that now require 10 hours of driving in addition to on-duty time. Where a harried driver might have stopped to take a break or a nap under the old rule, the clock keeps running for those stops under the new rule. “The 14-hour rule discourages drivers from taking breaks throughout the driving day,” 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 before running headfirst into the 14-hour rule.”

    Others see the 14-hour rule as a boon for drivers because it now gives drivers a way to say, “No.” “Because drivers can no longer split their breaks at the shipper’s docks,” says owner-operator Monty Rhoades, a 34-year trucking veteran, “they think the 14-hour rule is going to kill them. They’ve given you the power. Use it.”

    Rhoades says the 14-hour rule should put the onus on shippers and receivers to turn loads around. If the rule is strictly enforced, drivers won’t have any choice but to shut down and delay deliveries if they are forced to wait at pickup and delivery locations. “Once they start complying and you’ve been at that dock for a while, you’ll shut it down because you’re out of hours. Your receiver on the other end is screaming, but it’s the fault of the shipper for hanging you up. You can darn well bet the carriers and the shippers are not going to take responsibility for that late load. They’re going to say it to the driver, ‘It’s you’re fault.’ The driver can now say, ‘According to regulations, I can’t drive.'”

    While the rule could potentially give drivers leverage, time spent waiting under the new rule cannot be made up driving, as is possible under the current rule. Many are already telling their customers to expect detention charges and working with them to improve waiting periods.
    “Drivers recognize the lost time in waiting and loading at shippers and consignees,” says Lisa Ellman, director of Schneider’s recruiting operations and a member of its hours-of-service team. “If I can’t keep my wheels running, I can’t make money.”

    Schneider and several other major fleets have announced pay increases to coincide with the new year and 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 pay from shippers and receivers who detain drivers. The company says its drivers are anxious about the rule and especially concerned with loss of revenue.

    “Our new pay package for owner-operators is still being formulated,” says Tom B. Kretsinger Jr., executive vice president of American Central Transport. “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. We’re going to be on top of it when the New Year comes around.”

    The HOS rule change has drivers worried about other things as well; any parking problems are expected to be exacerbated under the change as drivers are forced to park for longer periods. A typical stop under the current rule may last around eight hours. After Jan. 4, drivers will be stuck at least 10 hours in one location and as many as 34.

    Drivers at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Raven Transport are wondering where they are going to park once the rule goes into effect. The carrier’s 240 company drivers and 20 owner-operators deliver loads along the Eastern seaboard, where the parking shortage is greatest.

    “The thinking right now is that if you’re not into a truckstop by 3 p.m., you can forget parking there,” says Bill Wiese, director of safety. “With 10 hours of down time, truckers are going to be in those truckstops even longer than now. The changes are good. They create a pattern of sleep. But we’ve got to find a place to park all of them.”

    The truckstop industry is eyeing the problem but isn’t sure whether it will be a big issue. “We’ve been taking a look at that problem because drivers are going to have to be stopped longer,” says Lisa Mullings, NATSO’s vice president of public affairs.

    Others say the parking issue is either beyond their control or will settle out once drivers have gotten used to the regulations and patterns have been established. “A guy who goes into a truckstop now is already planning on being there the time he’s going to be there,” Monty Rhoades says. “That won’t be any different under the new rule.”

    “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.”

    Heaton says the industry will evolve with the rule change, but he doubts it will have any effect on 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. “What I predict is going to happen is that there will be more log book falsification going on, not less, and that drivers are going to run tired more often instead of less.

    “The new HOS regs in my opinion are just as big of a joke as the old ones are when it comes to reducing driver fatigue.”

    Federal Changes:

    The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration has made inflationary adjustments on non-compliance penalties. For example, a CDL driver convicted of violating an out-of-service order can now be fined $2,100 to $3,750 per incident. Carriers who allow an employee to violate an order may receive a civil penalty of $3,750 to $16,000 instead of $2,750 to $11,000. Carriers who do not hold the required insurance can be fined as much as $16,000 daily, and other safety regulation violations now fine carriers $11,000 and drivers $2,750. Other fine increases include record-keeping violation penalties, which are now $550 to $5,500, and non-compliance with hazmat safety regulations, which carries fines of $275 to $32,500 per incident. The agency wants to double penalties for out-of-service order and record-keeping violations, but that measure is waiting Congressional approval.

    Status: Currently in effect.

    Truckers who hold hazardous material endorsements must undergo criminal background checks and submit to fingerprinting when they renew or transfer their commercial drivers licenses. Under new anti-terrorism regulations introduced by the Transportation Security Administration, states will begin administering fingerprint-based background checks April 1. CDL holders who have violated immigration laws, are mentally incompetent or have a felony conviction for certain violent crimes will have their endorsements revoked. Under the rule, endorsees who cannot meet those standards must surrender their endorsements immediately. TSA is also crosschecking the names of hazmat endorsees against terrorism databases and plans to finish its search this month.

    Status: Goes into full effect April 1.

    FMCSA wants to give carriers greater access to the employment history of trucker applicants. The proposed rule would give hiring carriers more information while at the same time limit liability for trucking companies who share information on their former employees’ performance. Employment details covered under the proposal include: employment verification, including dates, accident history, and alcohol and controlled substance history.

    Status: Pending final rule.

    Announced in 2002, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has revamped the rule governing cargo securement. The rule requires motor carriers to change the way they use cargo securement devices to prevent articles from shifting on or within, or falling from, a tractor-trailer. In some instances, the changes may require motor carriers to increase the number of tiedowns used to secure certain types of cargoes. Truckers are also required under the rule to inspect cargo and securement devices within the first 50 miles of a trip, at every additional 150 miles and when they change duty status. Motor carriers must be in compliance with the final rule by Jan. 1, and the rule affects operations from log hauling and steel coils to flattened cars.

    Status: Goes into effect Jan. 1.

    The DOT substantially lowered hazmat fees from $2,000 to $300 for large truck companies and $250 to $150 for small truck companies after an industry lawsuit.

    Status: Currently in effect.

    Canadian explosives haulers must register with Transport Canada, the Canadian agency overseeing transportation safety, under a new final rule introduced by the Transportation Security Administration. The temporary rule will be used until U.S. and Canadian agencies create more comprehensive regulations regarding background checks for hazardous materials handlers.

    Status: Currently in effect.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration security wants to require that trucking companies notify it by noon one calendar day before a shipment of imported food arrives at a border crossing or port. The agency expects to average 20,000 notices daily.

    Status: Pending comments and a final rule.

    Congress is still considering an act that would bring truck weight and length limits under federal control. The Safe Highways and Infrastructure Preservation Act would remove states’ authority to further expand truck weight and length limits. Currently, states’ weight and length limits are set at the state level; some states allow trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds GVW and others restrict trailer length. The legislation, however, would shift that jurisdiction to the federal government.

    Status: Bill is pending before committees in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

    The TSA tested transportation worker ID cards this year, but no word yet on when drivers will get their TWICs.

    Status: Pending regulatory approval.

    FMCSA has proposed new standards for training drivers of long combination vehicles, including those drivers who hold a double/triple trailer endorsement on their CDL.

    Status: Pending final rule.

    Local and regional changes:

    Law now prevents movers from withholding delivery if the customer pays the fee as specified in the shipping document. It also requires the mover to provide consumers with a list of costs and services. Further, regardless of circumstances, movers must turn over customer prescription medicine and medical supplies, as well as children’s furniture, clothing and toys. It also demands movers carry minimum levels of insurance and register annually with the state Public Utilities Commission.

    Re-established a pilot program to allow trucks weighing up to 129,000 pounds to use certain roads in the southern part of the state. The law allows specially configured trucks to max out at the new weight with a $50 permit.

    Ended tolls on its Daniel Boone and Louie B. Nunn Cumberland parkways because of approved federal funding.

    Truckers now pay their full diesel tax at the pump after a 6-cent-per-gallon fuel tax discount expired in April. The Michigan surcharge on IFTA returns has been removed from the quarterly report.

    Has made it illegal for truckers to use engine brakes unless the truck is equipped with a muffler or if there is immediate threat to a person or property.

    Criminalized fatigue-related fatal wrecks. If a driver is involved in a fatality after 24 sleepless hours, he can be charged with vehicular homicide. Fatigue-related vehicular homicide is classified as a second-degree crime, carrying a maximum penalty of a 10-year sentence and a $100,000 fine.

    Increased idling fines to $250 to $875 at New York City’s Hunts Point Produce Market. City law forbids trucks and buses from idling for more than three consecutive minutes, except when loading or unloading, or when processing something, such as cement. The state also increased fines for violating truck routes to as much as $2,000 per violation.

    Will hike fuel taxes 6 cents by 2005 but are phasing out a diesel surcharge. Under the plan, truckers and motorists will be hit with a state fuel tax increase of 2 cents per year, but truckers would lose the 3-cent fuel tax differential they pay on top of state fuel taxes by 2005.

    Will raise truck registration fees and weight-mile taxes Jan. 1. The taxes will go for bridge and road improvements.

    Passed laws that hiked registration fees from $25 to $59 annually for a truck 5,000 pounds or less and up to a maximum of $1,688 for a truck of 79,000 to 80,000 pounds. Drivers may receive a $150 fine for a single brake violation and $300 for multiple brake violations. Companies that allow trucks with faulty brakes on the road can receive a $300 fine for a single violation and $600 for multiple charges. Truck registration will be suspended 90 days if it is renewed without a valid inspection certificate. Also, the state now requires all vehicles to turn on their headlights when in a work zone or risk a $25 fine. County maintenance departments are posting signs to remind drivers to use headlights.

    Coal haulers in parts of West Virginia can haul as much as 120,000 pounds, thanks to a law passed in April. The law, which applies only to coal haulers operating in 15 southern counties on roads designated for coal traffic, includes hefty penalties and provisions for increased enforcement efforts.

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