By Randy Grider
By now we are confident that all drivers should understand the hours-of-service rule announced Aug. 19.
Frankly, the changes were minimal in many ways. The new rule:
- Keeps the 14-hour work window.
- Keeps the 11-hour maximum drive allowance within 14 hours.
- Keeps the 34-hour restart provision. (It tweaks this provision slightly to allow a driver in violation of his weekly hours limit to go back on duty after 34 hours off duty.
- Keeps the 60/70 hours on duty in seven/eight consecutive days.
- Ends the arbitrary split sleeper berth provision.
- Requires at least eight consecutive hours of rest, plus two additional consecutive hours off. (The eight-hour break and the two-hour breaks don’t have to be consecutive in regards to each other, and only the eight-hour break stops the 14-hour clock.)
- Adds a provision for short-haul drivers not requiring a commercial driver’s license to work two 16-hour days each week.
Whether or not you agree with the changes, it’s worth noting how the Federal Motor Carrier Administration justifies the latest adjustments to the rule.
First and foremost, the agency had to consider the federal appeals court ruling that vacated the rule that went into effect in 2004. The court chastised FMCSA for not considering the health of drivers when writing the rule.
The key to the new rule was looking at the fatigue factor. FMCSA says it goal was to adopt a rule that is based on science and research. Statistically, according to government research, less than 6 percent of all truck-involved crashes are fatigue-related.
The agency looked at what amount of consecutive rest is needed to alleviate fatigue.
“The agency consulted with driver health and fatigue experts and academic research institutions, to identify and analyze relevant research,” says FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg. “This included reviewing more than 1,000 health-related research articles and dozens of fatigue-related studies.”
She added it also considered approximately 1,800 public comments, which referenced an additional 200 studies. Other data was collected by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute using monitoring equipment to record over-the-road drivers during the course of their work days.
From this research, FMCSA concluded the consecutive eight-hour block of rest was essential in allowing drivers time to get restorative sleep.
I know many drivers will challenge this. They say there’s no way they can sleep that long at one given time. I know because when I was on the road, my sleep pattern wouldn’t allow it.
But I also know that over time, it does change if your lifestyle changes. Over a period of a couple of years, it changed for my dad when he went from long-haul to short-haul because of non-trucking-related health problems. His body learned to go from five or six hours of sleep to seven or eight.
The 34-hour restart provision is based on the same logic as the eight-hour break: cumulative rest time to restore needed rest at the end of the week, just as eight hours at the end of a day.
Many drivers look at the rule based on how it affects their ability to work, not on how it affects their long-term health. Overall, the split sleeper berth allowed great flexibility in some trucking operations. Still, in the long run, it allowed greater opportunities for health problems for drivers, whether or not they were involved in a crash. It also created more opportunities for cheating on log books.
Personally, I haven’t talked to many drivers who drove 11 hours at a time as the rule allows. It’s just too hard physically and mentally. Still, many drivers drove a lot of hours by stopping the clock with splits.
The truth is they shouldn’t have to do that. Better pay, shorter waiting times at shippers and receivers, pay for all hours worked and more home time are the keys to improving lifestyles for drivers.
It shouldn’t take a lot of research or a rocket scientist to figure that.