Owner-operator testifies to Congress on damaging effects of new hours provisions

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hours truck stopOwner-operator Tilden Curl likes to leave his house at 4 a.m. to be able to make his way through Seattle before the morning rush hour can cause him to get bogged down and waste his time, miles and money. 

And he used to be able to do it without hindrance.

Given the new provisions in hours-of-service rule, however, Curl can’t pull his truck on the road until 5 a.m., leaving him no choice but to deal with the Seattle traffic. 

Curl offered this story as one of several points in his testimony to Congress Nov. 21 at a House Small Business Committee hearing on hours-of-service, saying the new hours regulations have taken away the flexibility truck drivers need to get the right amount of rest, avoid traffic and stay on schedule after being delayed by shippers. 

Curl spoke at the hearing on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, saying the trade group supports the TRUE Safety Act bill introduced into the House this month. The bill would delay the hours-of-service changes until the Government Accountability Office can study them and FMCSA’s methodology further. 

The rule changes also do more than just slow him down in heavier traffic, Curl said, as they could cost him as much as $4,000-$5,000 a month.

He also told the panel that no one in trucking makes safety a priority the way drivers do, as an accident and the costs associated with it can mean the end of a one-truck business. 

Many times, the new hours rule can leave drivers and owner-operators “in a constant Catch-22 situation,” he said, having to “work to operate safely and efficiently.” The hours-of-service rules don’t provide enough flexibility for each driver to set a schedule that works best for his or her operation, fatigue level or freight schedule. 

Curl also pointed to unpaid detention as potentially a bigger issue for drivers than hours-of-service and an issue made much worse by the lost flexibility caused by the new regulations.

Like others who testified, Curl pointed to his group’s recent survey results, saying an OOIDA membership survey showed that 46 percent of driver respondents said they feel more fatigued under the new rules and 65 percent say they’ve lost income. Half, he noted, have lost mileage and loads.

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OOIDA’s position on mitigating safety, Curl said, is backing increased driver training. “OOIDA strongly feels that the key to highway safety above any regulation or technology is ensuring there is a safe, well-trained and knowledgeable driver behind the wheel of every tractor-trailer on the highway.”

In more testimony about his own operation, Curl said he liked stopping for 15 minutes every three to four hours, which would cumulatively give him 30 minutes worth of break time. Obviously that doesn’t work under the new rules, he said, but the effectiveness of cumulative breaks was backed up by Pennsylvania State University researcher Paul Jovanis. 

Jovanis, director of Transportation Operations Program at Penn State’s Larson Transportation Institute, said his research showed that cumulative breaks yield the same amount of crash risk and fatigue reduction as stopping for one longer break. 

Here are some highlights from others who testified at the hearing: 

Duane Long, chairman of Longistics, 105-truck fleet based in North Carolina: Long said team drivers at his fleet deliver just-in-time freight, and often their schedules put them home around 2 a.m. Whereas they would normally be able to resume operation Sunday evening and make deliveries Monday morning, they now must wait until 5 a.m. Monday to start driving. Thus, the needs of their customers go unmet, he said. Long spoke on behalf of the American Trucking Associations and said his group, too, supports the passage of the TRUE Safety Act. 

Brian Evans, owner of brokerage firm L&L Freight Services in Cabot, Ark.: Evans called the hours rule “a solution in search of a problem.” He said the rules will have no effect on reducing accidents beyond the previous rules, calling them “overly complicated” and a knock to productivity. “We are not suggesting increased safety be traded for increased efficiency. We are stating that safety improvement was acheived under the old rules, and the new rules will not result in dramatically increased carrier safety,” Evans said. He was there speaking on behalf of the Transportation Intermediaries Association, who, like the other trade organizations, was there to offer their support for the TRUE Safety Act. 

Jovanis: Jovanis was the witness brought on behalf of safety groups and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), ranking member of the subcommittee. Jovanis offered testimony saying several studies have shown lower crash risks correlated with at least 9 hours off duty, rest breaks while driving and driving during the day. Crash risks were elevated in the early morning — 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. — and from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., he said. Another study showed elevated crash odds from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., Jovanis said. An Australian study also showed self-reported fatigue for truck drivers was higher during night shifts than day shifts. 

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