Editor's Journal: Fuzzy math

Fuzzy math
Hours-of-service equation can’t be solved without factoring in key variable

Perhaps it’s time to fire up the NASA computers to find a workable solution to the hours-of-service reform being debated across the country. I know my simple calculator and an entire day devoted to finding the “perfect” formula was futile. So much for doing something productive on a lazy Sunday.

I could find no way to manipulate the numbers within the current system parameters and make it work to satisfy all the people who want or need to be satisfied.

My high school math teacher would call this kind of problem “unsolvable.” A rare occurrence in the mathematical field. The hours-of-service problem is unsolvable because the variables are out of whack. The variables include compensation, time, safety and greed.

The real problem is only two tangible variables are used for the calculation — time and competition. And for the most part that means miles and hours. The safety variable is much like beauty — it’s in the eye of the beholder. Once miles and hours are figured, the ciphering of safety begins by using whichever safety statistics suit the group solving the problem. Talk about your fuzzy math.

Few bother to use the greed variable because it doesn’t fit the respective formulas being used to solve the hours-of-service problem. Now greed isn’t a bad thing, per se. In fact, it is the key to a healthy industry. Greed motivates all involved, from the manufacturer of the goods all the way down to the truck driver. Maybe it’s because greed is so sacred to the trucking industry, no one really wants to mess with it.

Since we’ve got a problem with the problem, what should we do? Take away an hour of driving? Add more sleeper berth flexibility? End or extend the reset period?

Safety groups and labor interests want to see fewer hours available to drive. Some trucking groups like the American Trucking Associations want the current rule left alone, arguing that it is working and the roads are safer because of it.

So what about you — the driver? We’ve heard from many truckers who would like the rule to basically stay the same with the exception of flexibility when it comes to the 14-hour clock so they can take naps when they feel tired. Drivers say being forced to drive when they know they are tired is unsafe.

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Not a popular stance for safety groups, who say truckers need to adhere more to the normal circadian rhythm. The scientific evidence that human behavioral patterns are predetermined by a 24-hour biological cycle does little to sway the drowsy driver thinking at 2 p.m. that he or she needs a short nap.

Of course, many times drivers can’t take that nap because they are driven by the greed variable, whether their own or that of others. Again, since this is not a part of the calculation for the hours regulations, it often leaves the driver vulnerable to having to decide what to sacrifice — rest or the need to keep moving before the 14-hour window closes.

The counter argument: Why is the driver tired during the mid-afternoon if he or she was off-duty for eight or 10 hours? Sleep apnea or some other illness? Environmental influences where he or she parked for the required rest? Years of conditioning for shorter split sleep times? None of these really matter when your body says you need a break.

Sadly, real-world trucking situations often don’t mesh well with fuzzy political math. We’re sure the hours-of-service rule will be changed and justified as to why it is better. But truthfully, the end result will likely be confusion and upheaval for drivers. The lowest common denominator is greed. That’s where the solution must start. When drivers no longer have to push themselves beyond the limits to earn a decent living, the problem will finally be solvable.

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