Here’s proof your input can be effective in changing regulation — for the better

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As I’ve written before, when it comes to the hours of service readers are justified in expressed pessimism that anything good will ultimately be done, given recent-past experiences with change (those now-dead 34-hour restart restrictions and the still-in-place required 30-minute break, chiefly), not to mention the 14-hour rule itself with the last really major rewrite, well more than a decade ago.

But a recent change in the rules governing the medical certification of diabetics successfully treated with insulin shows that, sometimes at least, individual comments can eventuate in positive change, and it’s possible for individual drivers who bring experience with a particular issue to the table to be recognized as ultimately of utmost value to the debate around a regulation.

Regular readers will be familiar with longtime trucker Bob Stanton, who was active in discussion over how to approach this particular change. He commented as “Truckers for a Cause,” a name he and a cofounder adopted years ago for a truckers’ sleep-apnea support group of sorts for assistance combating the “administrative malarkey,” he calls it, that can arise for haulers attempting to deal with that condition while employed as a driver. In a read through the new diabetes rule, which you can access in full text here (and here’s our in-brief reporting on it), once you get to the commentary/FMCSA response portion of the text within the rule’s justification, TFAC is quoted directly several times — I stopped counting at around 10 mentions.

As says Stanton himself, “drivers making comments to the docket via can result in changes. … Make your comments on hours of service.”

Speaking of which, there are 2,000-plus comments in the docket folder for FMCSA’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the hours of service at present (deadline, revised yesterday, is Oct. 10). That’s a lot, but to put it in perspective, there were more than 1,000 total on the potential for the diabetes change, a subject far from being one about which there is near-universal expertise among truckers. If any subject can fit that description, it’s hours, of course.

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Also on that front, I happened to take notice of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies‘ endorsement of greater flexibility in the way drivers might split off/on-duty periods, filed last week, which among others things outlined what NASTC head David Owen, the comment’s author, viewed as key components of any change to current split-sleeper options:

There are several approaches to splitting sleeper-berth time, so that this actually gives flexibility and simplifies the HOS regulations. The most important features to include are (1) allowing time splits to vary from day to day, (2) each split should stop the 14-hour HOS clock, (3) log at least 8 hours per 24-hour period as rest time (“sleeper berth” and “off-duty”), and (4) once 10 total hours are accumulated, restart the on-duty clock.

Certainly not exactly how it works today with the rolling 8/2 splits. The benefits, Owen maintained, of “flexibility in obtaining rest as needed and in light of circumstances would come in the form of highway safety, operational efficiency, and cost savings.”

Owen went on to say the Trucker Nation petition to allow drivers to split duty periods more liberally and simply had “a lot of appeal” for its relatively simplicity. (You can read his tour through some of the assumptions underpinning a lot of the analysis of fatigue and more via this link to a pdf of his full comment letter — in another choice excerpt, Owen names a few principal current causes of driver fatigue as such: the inflexibility of existing HOS rules, the dictatorship of the electronic logging device, and constraints such as insufficient truck parking availability and uncontrollable adverse driving circumstances.)

Owen’s comment ends with a guess at what could be the ultimate effect of such a change — the ability to stop the on-duty clock before it runs out could put the brakes on what “almost every driver and every industry safety person we have talked to since 2004 has agreed” on, Owen wrote, “that the 14-hour rule creates a deadline mentality that forces a driver to drive when fatigued and doesn’t allow him to stop and take a break when needed.”

Sound familiar?

Finally, you may have seen “Long Haul Paul” Marhoefer’s addition to the modest proposal archive — those things that sound so crazy on their face that they might just be more sane than sane — here at yesterday. Embedded within that was a little survey intended to suss out the extent to which the somewhat related and broadly felt issues with parking and undue detention impact use of hours, with a particular emphasis on planning around parking.

If you didn’t already take that brief survey or otherwise have missed it, it follows again here: