Hours of service pop quiz: Can you haul 77 hours in 7 days?

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Updated September 25, 2020, to correct math mistakes and better account for the 34-hour restart’s slight bonus-time effect if stars align in a schedule. 

In Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s announcement of its petition to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals aimed at challenging the hours of service changes going into effect at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time next week Tuesday (that’s of course late Monday for the rest of the country), Public Citizen Litigation Group Attorney Adina Rosenbaum provided a bit of context for involvement in the suit. “The FMCSA,” Rosenbaum said, “is supposed to protect truck drivers and the public from unsafe driving conditions, but this rule does the opposite and puts the health and safety of these workers at risk.”

True or false? 

We’ll know soon enough, I suppose, given the fast-approaching implementation date, but I’m inclined to wager that most of you might well guess the latter.

What’s not debatable is the answer to the second question in this hours pop quiz, of sorts. Rosenbaum’s featured quote in Advocates’ posted announcement of the pursuit of litigation continued with a shot aimed at the existing rules: “Current HOS rules already allow for 11 hours of driving per workday. On this existing schedule, truck drivers can be on the road up to 77 hours in seven days, nearly double the average American work week.”

True or false?

False. Well, mostly — and thanks for the readers for correcting me here on the original version of this story, as I failed my own prescription for dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. A longtime owner-operator, who wished to remain anonymous, gamed maximum driving hours out over an eight-day period, assuming you have a full 70 available and you’re starting at midnight with full fuel tanks. He used the current sleeper split to avoid the 30-minute break and logged a quarter-hour on-duty not driving for the pretrip inspection daily, with another quarter hour fuel after every second day. This is all hypothetical, of course, but would satisfy most views of the rules to a tee, he said — stars would really have to align just about perfectly to pull that exact kind of schedule off. No unload/load assist — not, of course, reflecting any kind of real-world scenario.

Game out a hypothetical log like that and you run out of hours on the 6th day entirely, but with a restart, by the of the 7th day the example calculations brought this operator to a grand total of 71.5 hours driving, with a few more hours in on-duty time incurred fueling and with pretrip quarter-hours through the week.

Again, hypothetical on a logbook, but theoretically possible. And not 77, of course.

Without this kind of use of the restart, anything above just under 70 hours of driving is currently out of bounds for interstate drivers traditionally recapping hours. That’s the cumulative duty limit for most, which you hit the end of on the sixth day in the owner-operator’s proposed scenario above. They’re a longtime and elemental part of the hours of service, a maximum of 70 duty hours in an eight-day period for drivers with companies that operate trucks every day of the week, 60 hours in 7 days for those operating less than every day of the week. Pretty well all drivers in interstate commerce are limited as such, including the short-haul drivers the petitioners seem to be most concerned about in their press material (the new rule extends from 12 to 14 hours the duty-limitation window for short-haulers, and the radius for qualifying for the logbook exception to 150 air miles).

Clearly Rosenbaum and company reached for the apparent low-hanging fruit for an example that might shock the upright consciences of everyday Americans. For a casual peruser of an advocacy organization’s website, hey, maybe it has its desired effect. But if they have any hope of actually succeeding in a court of law, they might want to dot the Is and all that, the importance of which I now even better understand, myself. (Thanks, everyone.)

The groups’ petition to the court follows FMCSA’s denial of their original petition for reconsideration of the rule.

Parking penalties across the pond — worth considering here?
The state of Queensland in Australia, according to the Daily Mail, has instituted a parking-related idea that might well be worth considering here. It might serve to address the oft-heard complaint around four-wheeled vehicles, campers, motorhomes and the like parked in spaces clearly designed for tractor-trailer combinations. At public rest areas, mind you.

Daily Mail Australia reporter Lauren Ferri’s piece detailed some of the specifics of the state of Queensland’s new enforcement mechanism — minimum $266 fines (about $190 U.S.), with a max of $2,669 ($1,880 U.S.) — to prevent non-hauling vehicles parking in truck spaces at highway rest stops there. Though the rest stops in Queensland look quite a lot different from our own, truckers there it seems have been dealing with congestion problems for years, too, and the new rules, in addition to the fines, also newly prevent motorhomes and other rec vehicles from parking in designated working truck spaces, unless there’s no other option available.

As Transport Minister Mark Bailey told Ferri, “The road is the heavy vehicle driver’s workplace – they get vital freight to our supermarket shelves and homes – and driver fatigue is a critical safety issue. … We need to ensure rest areas are used for fatigue management, providing a place for heavy vehicles to stop and rest safely.”

Queensland is the third Australia state to make similar enforcement changes, following New South Wales and Victoria. Read more about it all via Ferri’s recent story.

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