New hours regs could cut into solo night drivers’ incomes with new 34-hour reset restrictions
By Todd Dills
In the aftermath of the pre-Christmas holiday announcement of the hours of service final rule by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, truck driver concern was palpable at Truckers News’ and Overdrive’s websites. Some drivers called for nationwide shutdowns and other protests, but most reflected the broader industry’s exasperation at further changes to a rule that has undergone several rounds of revisions over the last decade.
There was a sigh of relief in the agency’s keeping the 11th hour of driving, as the potential costs of such a change outweighed any safety benefit FMCSA could determine. Among other changes mostly favorable to drivers were tweaks to on-duty time in favor of flexibility for team drivers and daycab operators resting in parked trucks. The new rules make it legal to log two hours of off-duty time in the passenger seat before or after eight in the sleeper. At once, new mandated 30-minute rest breaks every eight hours of driving, perceived largely as favorable by most solo drivers, could complicate teams hauling sensitive loads requiring dual driver protection — or constant monitoring.
Also included was definition of driving three hours beyond limits as an “egregious” violation, with maximum civil penalties possible for drivers committing such a sin — as well as their employing or leasing motor carriers, if complicity could be proven.
Perhaps the most controversial, potentially productivity-limiting change has to do with the 34-hour restart and restrictions on its use. As proposed, the final rule limits a driver to use of the restart once per week — and must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. This is FMCSA’s acknowledged attempt to force drivers to consider conforming to circadian body rhythms with a goal of reducing fatigue.
Ruan Transport driver Shawn Hubbard, driving mostly local within a 100-mile radius of his home base in Southern California, sees the change as costing him a potential $200 a week, given his regular six-nights-a-week graveyard-shift schedule. “The way we are paid is by the load — I can do up to $300 worth on a good night, but $200 a night is average,” Hubbard says. “If I had to give up one day a week, every week, that would eliminate $800 a month from my check,” or nearly $10,000 a year.
Hubbard’s quick to note that working six days on, two off, is just not practical given the weekly realities of his dedicated operation. “The people making the rules have no idea — they’ve never sat in a truck or lived in a truck. They’ve never seen the realities of the road and the reality of shipper and receiver locations.”
That sentiment is echoed by independent owner-operator Mike Crawford, Overdrive’s 2009 Trucker of the Year running long-haul on a dedicated contract with Prime Inc. Crawford urged lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of the driver. Drivers “always get the same answer from regulators: ‘you just have to plan better,’” he says. “But we can’t always plan around shippers, manufacturers, carriers and these other entities that are involved. The Dallas Cowboys planned on beating the New York Giants, but it didn’t happen — their plans didn’t work out. When are some of these people out here — these bureaucrats, company owners, and such — going to plan better and not throw everything on the company drivers. It gets frustrating for these guys out here.”
Industry consultant Jay Thompson, president of Transportation Business Associates, characterizes the restart as it is used among cross-country haulers less as a tool for maximizing hours but one that provides great operational flexibility. “They run across the country and often reset on either end, whether you’re close on your hours limits or not.”
Restarting around shipper/receiver delays ensures the driver will be able to expeditiously get back across the nation without a delay on the return trip, he notes. “It’s a flexibility tool that a lot of people have planned around. [Restart changes] could be a big impact on the most productive truckers,” those running above the industry majors’ average of around 2,300 miles a week per truck, he adds.
Mark Theis, safety director at flatbed fleet Long Haul Trucking, says the impact of restart changes on weekly drive time for operators will be minimal, “unless it is more of a dedicated run.” Theis says the impact at the carrier would largely be productivity neutral, but still acknowledged the exasperation expressed by many in the industry. “The government spends all this money on battling and this is what they come up with,” he says. It could cost “an average-size company with a system that scans their logs about $10,000” in software and systems modifications and driver retraining.
Owner-operator Crawford, too, doesn’t see the changes impacting his productivity, since he can adjust his operations. “I’ll just have to learn to live with the new restart the way it is. I’ll have to do some more planning,” he says.
Crawford is approaching 4 million accident-free miles in October and sees operational flexibility as the key to on-highway safety: “Drivers are not computers and machines that can be turned off and on. You have guys sitting out here. If they don’t hit the restart exactly right, now they’re going to have to take an extra day off. Put yourself in that driver’s shoes. He’s got to feed a family — and wages are not going up in a manner consistent with the costs of everything else … Now his paycheck’s going to be $200 less this week because he could not do his restart by 1 a.m. instead of midnight?”
HOURS CHANGES AT A GLANCE
| Trucking adds 5,100 jobs | The for-hire trucking industry added 5,100 new payroll employees in December — the most in one month since March, according to preliminary numbers released Jan. 6 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Compared with December 2010, trucking employment is up by 40,100 jobs, or 3.2 percent.
| Illinois truck speed limits increase | Truck speed limits on non-interstate highways in Illinois increased Jan. 1. Big rig speeds on various four-lane rural roads outside Chicago rose to 65 mph from 55 mph, matching the passenger car speed limit.
| Former FMCSA official sentenced | James H. Wood, 45, of Delevan, N.Y., former supervisor of the Buffalo office of the FMCSA, has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for accepting bribes from trucking companies. According to court documents, he postponed safety audits, provided lists of Canadian companies scheduled for FMCSA inspections and initiated favorable audits for those carriers and unfriendly audits for their competitors.
| NAFTA trade up in October | Surface transportation trade between the United States and Canada and Mexico rose 12 percent in October over a year earlier to $79 billion, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics of the U.S. Department of Transportation. U.S.-Canada trade increased 14.1 percent year-over-year to $46.4 billion, while U.S.-Mexico gained 9.1 percent to $32.6 billion, BTS said.
| Class 8 Orders Increase | Preliminary North America Class 8 truck net orders increased in December, research firms ACT Research Co. and FTR Associates said. The final number will approach up to 30,000 units. December orders were up 46 percent month over month, with a year-over-year increase of 11 percent, FTR said. Class 8 orders for the final three months of 2011 annualize to 312,000 units.
Top 3 finalists selected in driver contests
Truckers News and the Truckload Carriers Association have announced the names of the top three finalists in the 2011 Company Driver of the Year competition.
The finalists are James Coles of MacKinnon Transport, Inc., Guelph, Ontario; John Moeller of Roehl Transport, Inc., Marshfield, Wisconsin; and Ronald Round of Pottle’s Transportation, Inc., Bangor, Maine.
Truckers News’ sister publication, Overdrive magazine, is TCA’s partner in the 2011 Owner-Operator of the Year contest. The three contractor finalists are Kirby Killgore of O & S Trucking, Inc., Springfield, Missouri; Larry Severson of Dart Transit Company, Eagan, Minnesota; and Bryan Smith of Art Pape Transfer, Inc., Dubuque, Iowa.
The grand prizewinners for each contest will be announced at TCA’s Annual Convention, to be held March 4-7, 2012, at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, Fla.
“We are excited about partnering with TCA on this important program and are pleased to be able to honor these exemplary truckers in the pages of Overdrive and Truckers News,” says Jeff Mason, Randall-Reilly senior vice president, trucking. “And thanks to the generosity of our sponsors – Cummins and Dodge – each winner will receive a Cummins-powered Dodge pickup truck.”
The overall goal of the contests is to recognize and pay tribute to the outstanding company and owner-operator truck drivers who provide reliable and safe truck transportation in moving the nation’s goods. The top three in each category are selected based on their ability to operate in a safe manner on the public highways, efforts to enhance the public image of the trucking industry, and positive contributions to the communities in which they live.
To be eligible for the contests, driver applicants had to meet certain minimum criteria, such as having driven 1 million consecutive, accident-free miles.
For more information on the Driver of the Year competition, please visit www.truckload.org/Driver-of-the-Year.