Editor's Journal

Opposing Suits?

Both sides of hours issue have problems with latest proposal


The Obama administration managed to do something with its recently released hours-of-service proposal that didn’t seem likely. It cleared a complex proposed rule that could bring litigation from both sides of the issue.

Randy Grider is editor of Truckers News. He is the son of a career trucker and holds a CDL. Write him at [email protected].

Most stakeholders in the trucking industry think it was unnecessary and goes too far, and the so-called safety groups that brought a lawsuit to have the current rule changed have criticized it for not going far enough.

It’s true that you can’t please everyone, but that looks like what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which was charged with coming up with the proposal, tried to do. In the end, what we have is a proposal that appears to be change for the sake of change.

Looking at the proposed rule objectively (see special report on p. 16), it’s hard to find much flattering to say about it. Part of it is wishy-washy, part is somewhat vague, and it is, overall, impractical if implemented as is.

First, there is the agency’s undecided driving-time provision. FMCSA says it prefers a reduction from 11 hours to 10 hours in the 14-hour window, but the agency has deferred making a decision until it reviews more public comments and potential unrevealed data.

Safety advocates say the rule allows drivers to stay on the road too long and the 11th hour of driving making the highways unsafe for the motoring public. Public Citizen and other groups have signaled a willingness to return the HOS issue to the courts, perhaps more likely in the event that the 11-hour driving rule is kept.

The problem for FMCSA is the trucking industry safety statistics since the current rule was adopted show that overall crashes and truck-related deaths have steadily declined over recent years.

Part of it is wishy-washy, part is somewhat vague, and it is, overall, impractical if implemented as is.

Does that mean truckers should have to drive 11 hours in a shift? We don’t advocate that either, but the majority of drivers don’t regularly use their allotted hours in most shifts, and for the minority who occasionally do, it’s a matter of flexibility in their work week to complete a load or get home before running out of driving time. Or so claim those polled by trucking industry advocates.

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Perhaps conventional wisdom was not to rush into changing this provision without supporting evidence that reducing the driving hours limit would be better. But offering a preference then taking a let’s-wait-and-see-how-things-go stance seems to compromise the reason the rule is being changed in the first place.

Next is the mandatory break (reduces on-duty time to 13 hours in the 14-hour and 16-hour options) after driving seven hours (or earlier since it starts with the beginning of on-duty status). We believe drivers deserve to take whatever breaks they see fit. But this mandate seems like an unwritten way for FMCSA to get more drivers to adopt paperless logs so they don’t have to figure out how to legally log their breaks with this cumbersome provision. Of course, this may also tempt some drivers who still use paper logs and are not leaving electronic breadcrumbs with GPS-enabled communication devices to be creative with their bookkeeping.

Then there is tinkering with the 34-hour reset rule that states a driver can use it once in seven days only if it encompasses two midnight to 6 a.m. periods. This looks like an attempt to get nighttime drivers to alternate their routine — at least once a week if they use the restart provision. We asked FMCSA how a driver will count midnight (the location where the driver shuts down or home domicile) but were told that would be spelled out in the final rule. This could create some interesting scenarios for drivers and law enforcement.

Both the last two provisions also could generate more parking problems as both impact normal driving and traffic patterns.

If we can find anything in the proposal that appears to be positive, it’s the redefinition of on-duty status to allow drivers now to be logged off-duty when the truck is parked as well as allowing team drivers to spend up to two hours in the passenger’s seat immediately before or after eight hours in the sleeper berth.

But overall, it’s a cumbersome proposal that no one can really embrace but could have to live with until the courts — once again — weigh in on it.