Forging ahead in the agency’s quest to gather input for evaluating changes to federal hours of service regulations, a panel of top brass from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Friday heard truckers’ HOS struggles and suggestions at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.
The theme of the two-hour listening session emerged quickly, centering on one word — the very word FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez says prompted the agency’s move to consider a review of hours regs: Flexibility.
“All we’re asking for is some flexibility and some common sense,” said owner-operator Steve Davenport, who noted his membership with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “One size doesn’t fit all.”
“I want to address giving drivers some flexibility,” said Chip Arnold of Bearden Transportation. He suggested providing drivers with an additional three-hour block of on-duty time once a week that they could use at their discretion when conditions warranted. “It’s not often that you need to go over” the 14-hour allotment, he said, “but it happens. [We need] some kind of flexibility so you don’t have to shut down 30 minutes” out from a destination.
Friday’s session was the first of four planned listening sessions on hours of service. The next is scheduled for Sept. 14 at U.S. DOT headquarters in Washington, D.C. Details of the other two sessions will be announced when they’re finalized, said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez, who was in attendance at the listening session, alongside FMCSA Chief Counsel Jim Mullen; Associate Administrator Larry Minor; Joe DeLorenzo, director of compliance and enforcement; and Wiley Deck, FMCSA director of government affairs.
About 60 truckers were in attendance, and about 20 of them spoke.
Drivers were passionate and pointed in airing their concerns and suggestions Friday, but the mood was markedly different from that of a listening session held just five months ago at the Mid-America Trucking Show, when a session aimed at addressing some sticky hours of service issues devolved into a bit of chaos. Then, truckers’ frustration with the looming hard enforcement of the ELD mandate and with hours of service regulations bubbled over into brief shouting matches between attendees.
Friday’s session was more subdued, with truckers simply showing up to provide anecdotal evidence for hours changes and to relay their ideas for an hours fix, with the straight 14-hour rule and the 30-minute break requirement being highlighted as chief areas for the agency to focus its reform efforts. Drivers mostly supported keeping the 14-hour on-duty limit in place, but with flexibility to allow drivers to break up their on- and off-duty periods into segments.
Longtime trucker Brandon Greer, now a tow-truck operator, was one of several commenters to point out the safety hazards of drivers “racing the clock,” referring to the 14-hour rule. “So many drivers…say they were racing the clock,” he said, referring to drivers whose crashes he has attended to. “Once again — back to flexibility.” Greer suggested allowing drivers to take off-duty breaks within their 14-hour on-duty limit to rest and to better schedule — an effective return to split-sleeper flexibility. Split-sleeper flexibility is one the four key areas the agency is considering reforming.
Owner-operator Gary Buchs also advocated for split-sleeper options while retaining the 14-hour on-duty period. “I do not support moving the 14-hour limit. Cumulative fatigue can be a huge factor in our safety. If we get in a situation with bad weather and need to go for 16 hours — maybe [that could be] once a week, maybe once a month,” he said. “We have to be careful not to do it day after day after day.”
Buchs also said the agency should make its ultimate hours determinations based on science and data. Buchs recommended that the agency perform more truck-based sleep studies, such as the one already in the offing studying split-sleeper berth options, as it considers changes to hours regs.
Longtime owner-operator Ingrid Brown agreed that the 14-hour total should be kept intact, but that drivers should be able to segment it. Pausing the clock for up to three hours once a day, as OOIDA called for in its petition for an hours rework, “would tremendously help,” she said. She also called for an end to the 30-minute break required before the end of drivers’ eight on-duty hours, calling it “grade school.”
Andrea Marks commented on behalf of Trucker Nation, who also filed a petition requesting FMCSA overhaul hours regs. Their petition effectively called for a return to a more flexible split-sleeper format, asking for FMCSA to allow drivers to use their 10-hour off-duty time in segments of multiple hours within a cumulative 14-hour on-duty clock. She said their proposal would provide “true flexibility for drivers.”
“Professional drivers need to be able to exercise their own professional judgment” in regards to breaks and off-duty time, she said. “We’re not recommending that the day should be extended. Fourteen hours is an adequate number to be on the road and then receive adequate rest.”
Her group is “compiling data from the National Sleep Institute as it related to intermittent sleeping,” she said, and will file that information with FMCSA.
Driver Bruce Bush advocated for an end to the 30-minute break and, again, an end to the straight 14-hour on-duty clock. The 30-minute break is an unnecessary and redundant requirement, he said. “We’re going to take that 30 minutes in the day anyhow,” for stops for drinks or to use the bathroom, he said. “It should be up to us to decide when to take it.”
He’s also a proponent of allowing drivers to extend their 14-hour clock to 16 hours on days when traffic or weather conditions intercede.
Several representatives for small fleets, mostly local to the greater Dallas area, spoke in favor of expanding the daily hours limit for short-haul drivers from the current 12 to 14 hours. Drivers that run under short-haul status must return to their terminals each day to qualify. Audrey Klotz, compliance manger for a construction company out of Dallas, said the 12-hour window isn’t enough time for her drivers to work their daily schedules and get back to their home terminal.
Though still early in the process that could result in a proposal for hours of service revisions, there was a sense in the room Friday that the agency might finally address one of owner-operators’ biggest regulatory beefs. Might is a also key word there, with Martinez noting multiple times this week that there’s “no guarantee” the agency will move to the next phase of the rulemaking process. Martinez says they agency will proceed only if receives robust industry feedback and necessary data to back up any reforms.
The agency is fielding public comments on its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking until Sept. 24 at this link.