Logging in Your New Hours

As of Jan. 4, the log book will reflect a revised hours-of-service rule, and drivers will need to adapt quickly to avoid violations of the new regulations.

The new rules are good, bad or in between depending on a driver’s specific trucking operation. Some industry segments, in particular less-than-truckload operations that have terminal-to-terminal deliveries, have few objections.

On the other hand, many irregular route carriers and single-truck owner-operators could see the new rules as an impediment to commerce. Lou Markowitz, a fleet manager for Crete Carrier in Allentown, Pa., said, “I expect about a 12-percent drop in productivity because of the new regulations. Other fleet managers in our system expect the same.”

Drivers will spend some time getting used to the new regulations and learning how to use them to their advantage. On the positive side, the new regulations are not black magic.

The new 14-hour rule is designed to encourage drivers to operate on a 24-hour clock. Once a driver starts his day, he must be off the road 14 hours later. Then he must be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. Within the 14-hour work period, a driver may drive as many as 11 hours, one more than the old rule allows.

But 14 hours is also one less hour of on-duty time than the current rule allows. There are exceptions to this schedule: a driver doesn’t have to work 14 hours and could conceivably squeeze an additional two hours of driving into a 24-hour period.

Once a driving period has begun, the new rule allocates three hours of on-duty, non-driving time for loading, unloading, fueling and personal necessities like eating. Some view the 14-hour window as too restrictive, and the pressure will be on the driver to be as efficient as possible with his on-duty, non-driving time. The more frequent and longer breaks a driver takes, the more difficult it will be to maintain driving productivity.

Drivers who once illegally backlogged to gain a few hours will be forced to follow the rule. Starting the clock earlier simply means the driver’s driving cycle ends earlier. It becomes even more essential to fuel, shower, etc., when you stop for the day, making sure in the process that electronic transactions and receipts continue to match location with the times on the fuel or toll receipts. Many drivers may find it helpful to eat in the truck, foregoing the pleasures of a more leisurely midday meal.

There is only one way to stop the 14-hour work clock. A driver can log sleeper berth time in two periods that must equal 10 hours. In order to count, neither period can be less than two hours, and all of it must be spent in the sleeper berth. The rule also says the clock does not stop if a driver logs less than two hours off duty or in the sleeper. Your breaks can be at three and seven hours, for example. In other words, you don’t really have to drive 11 hours straight. But if you stop, you need to log off in the sleeper for two hours or more for it to extend your clock. This means your day is not necessarily divided into two periods of 14 and 10. The 10 can be inserted into the 14 whenever you need it.

The 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight rule remains similar to the old rule. The big difference is a reset that allows a driver who has reached a stopping point or has reached his 60- or 70-hour limit to reset that week after 34 consecutive hours off duty. For some this will mean more hours of driving; for others it will mean a 34-hour company-enforced vacation.

Some drivers worry that companies will strand them for the 34 hours just to reset them. The resulting layovers could cost drivers money and may make them cool their heels away from home. But the advantage for drivers who want to run the extra miles is evident in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s interpretation of the rule: “Thus, the new rules in 395.3 would allow a driver of a property-carrying vehicle, who is working under the 70-hour-in-eight-day rule, to start an 8-day period at 7 a.m. on Monday and remain on duty for 14 hours each day (11 hours of which could be driving time). If the driver reached the 70-hour limit at 9 p.m. Friday (14 hours/day x 5 days = 70 hours), he would not be able to drive again until 7 a.m. on the following Tuesday (8 days after the start of the period) unless he immediately began an off-duty period of 34 consecutive hours, in which case he could begin driving again at 7 a.m. Sunday, which would be the start of a new 70-hour-in-eight-day period.”

It is obvious that taking advantage of the 34-hour rule will get you back to work sooner. Or you can choose to wait until your eight-day week is up if you are somewhere you want to be and your dispatcher isn’t looking for you. While the feds may care less whether you return to duty after your 34-hour break, your dispatcher probably will. Chris Behrens, of Georgia Peach Trucking, believes the 34-hour rule will hurt him when he runs up against the 70-hour limit. “Under the old rules you could get your eight hours and start up again. Now, if you don’t use the 34-hour rule, you have to wait until the end of the eight-day period to restart,” Behrens says.

The trick has been and will always be to maximize your driving time and minimize the time you spend on duty not driving. Because the 14-hour clock can only be stopped by sleeper berth time, a driver has an even better reason to figure out when best to use the off-duty and sleeper-berth hours to maximize his day. If he needs to stop again before taking the final eight hours “sleeper” berth time, that time must be logged as on duty not driving.

Because most drivers will load and unload in the morning or late afternoon, it appears possible that the roads will be clogged during daylight hours more than before. This also means that nighttime parking problems could get worse. Splitting sleeper berth time to break up the 14-hour clock may allow a driver to run more at night. If one’s operation is drop-and-hook, he or she will have a decided advantage, since any delays will eat up the 14-hour and 70-hour windows. Prior to Jan. 4, some drivers simply logged off duty even if they weren’t. Now, a driver can still log off duty as often as he or she likes, but it will count towards the 14-hour clock.

This is, at any rate, how it looks without benefit of real world experience. Drivers will figure out for themselves how to maximize their productivity. As Keith DeHaven, an owner-operator for Dart Transit says, “They’re still forcing some drivers to lie. Unless carriers invest in more trailers so that there is more drop-and-hook and consignees trust shippers to count the freight and unload so that drivers can sleep, the driver has to find ways to get the job done.”

Tips For Managing the 2004 Log Book

1. Make sure you realize that from Jan. 4 on you must fill out your log book under the new HOS rules – don’t let yourself slip.

2. Pretrip planning should include an eye to how you will log your trip, particularly until you are entirely familiar with the new standards.

3. You have 11 hours within a 14-hour window to drive. Once you start the driving clock, you cannot extend the 14-hour on-duty period except with time of two hours or more.

4. The 34-hour rule could work against you if you are forced to take it away from home.

5. If your carrier is giving classes in how to comply with the new rules, take advantage of them.

6. Be aware of the consequences of these new rules. Parking at night and daytime traffic could become bigger problems.

7. Remember, dispatch is as new to this game as you are. Now is the time for both dispatch and you to understand the importance of cooperation.