By Randy Grider
Imagine you are a football player in a special league. In this league, unlike others, athletes only get paid for yardage gained en route to a score. In other words, your paycheck depends on you keeping your legs churning forward.
Right in the middle of the season you got a memo from the league that informed you the authorities were changing a few of the rules of the game: once you go into the game, you have only 14 minutes of playing time before taking a 10-minute break, and we’re using real time, not the game clock, in this part of the rule.
Your eligible playing time for the game starts at the snap of the ball after you enter the playing field. Your game-clock playing time can now not exceed 11 minutes, unlike the 10 minutes allowed under a decades-old rule everyone in the league had been used to. You can split up the rest period as long as you don’t exceed 14 minutes on either side of the break. But you also can take a 34-minute break and reset your eligibility.
You didn’t like the new rule, but you’re a sportsman and you adapted to new regulations despite the headaches it caused for you and your coach.
Now just a year later spectators who didn’t like the old rules or the revised rules sue to get them changed. Players are not getting proper rest and are a danger to other players, they argue.
So the authorities do away with the part of the rule that allows the player to decide when to rest. You now can only split your rests into two increments of eight minutes and two minutes or take a full 10 minutes.
Once again you adapt to the new rule, though no one is happy with it. And just when you and most of your teammates have finally made an uneasy peace with it, the spectators sue again. This time it is decided that the authorities didn’t properly explain the justification for the 34-minute reset or the extra minute of playing time. These provisions are rejected, and the ruling becomes effective in less than two months.
As a player you’re left scratching your head. What does this mean for the rest of the season? How can you concentrate on doing the best job for your team when the rules of the game are up in the air?
I know some will say I’ve highly trivialized the hours-of-service regulations and the current dilemma facing truckers following the recent appeals court ruling that vacated the 34-hour reset and the additional hour of driving.
But why not? It seems to be a game to a lot of the people involved, people who use “safety” as their battle cry. The cry is far from reflecting reality. Many drivers can no longer rest when they are tired and still deliver their loads in a timely manner. Yes, I’m talking about the sleeper-berth provision that went by the wayside in the last revamping of HOS rules.
Drivers have become pawns on the chess board of the hours rule. It creates anxiety and uncertainty. “There is still confusion about the rule from the last change,” says CFI driver Dora Colvin, who in 2006 was Truckers News/TCA Company Equipment Driver of the Year. “I still get drivers asking about how to log according to the rule. It’s a little better over the last few months, but there is still confusion.”
Confusion is also common in law enforcement, according to Colvin, who team-drives with her husband Butch. “When it comes to law enforcement in different states, we get different interpretations. This latest ruling is just adding fuel to the fire.”
Here’s the real problem: The original rule – which lasted 60 years before all the court battles and revisions started – was flawed. It was based on pay per mile, but regulated by hours.
Until all drivers are paid a fair wage for all the hours they work, any rule tweaking is counterproductive.
If we can’t fix the root problem, we only need one more rule, the “Leave It the Hell Alone Rule.”