'Crew rest': A military approach to protecting truckers' off-duty time from interruption

James Year Headshot

I was recently made aware of a ridiculous issue in trucking. Brokers are requiring drivers to download apps that track the GPS coordinates of their loads, which at face value seems innocent enough. But in practice these brokers are latching onto these app-based capabilities like an obsessive spouse, by calling drivers during their mandated 10-hour rest period for updates on the load.

Which they already have tracking information on...

Common sense would dictate situations like this wouldn't happen in an industry that preaches the gospel of safety like a blacksmith hammering iron. For the guilty parties here, common sense isn’t a common virtue. Being roused after a 14-hour day to get an update on something that the customer already has an answer to would be infuriating for me, especially if I had another 14-hour day to look forward to.

Doing that to someone who’s responsible for 80,000 pounds of freight going down the road at 67 miles an hour is wildly irresponsible.

The situation reminded me of my flying days. I was a Loadmaster on C-130Js, hauling cargo overseas for the U.S. Air Force across Europe, Africa and the Middle East for four years. For all the Catch-22-esque absurdities, inefficiencies, toxic leadership and promotion politics, as well as a calendar full of the ceremonial dog and pony shows that regularly kept me from doing my actual job, the Air Force at least got one thing right.

We had crew rest regulations as laid out in the Air Force Manual. The latest 11-202 Volume 3, states them this way:

“Commanders and supervisors will ensure aircrew are provided a 12-hour rest opportunity prior to beginning the flight duty period. ... Crew rest is free time and includes time for meals, transportation, and an opportunity for at least 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. Crew rest cannot begin until after the completion of official duties. Crew rest is compulsory for aircrew members prior to performing any duties involving aircraft operations and is a minimum of 12 nonduty hours before the flight duty period (FDP) begins.”

Partner Insights
Information to advance your business from industry suppliers
The ALL NEW Rand Tablet
Presented by Rand McNally

Truckers’ hours of service regulations offer something similar. But in practice, trucking's approach to hours pales in comparison to the culture that has developed around this specific general flight rule. Crew rest is a sacrosanct, if not holy, rule in military aviation. There is nothing scarier than an exhausted pilot attempting an assault landing on a remote airstrip or a loadmaster trying to airdrop a heavy equipment load on no sleep.... Recipes for disaster.

[Related: ELDs/location tracking making brokers more annoying? Or more efficient...]

But for freshly buzz-cut enlisted degenerates like me in those days, who wanted to spend that wallet full of taxpayer funded per-diem, nothing was more important than the limited time we had to make poor life decisions, often in places whose names we couldn’t pronounce and could only hazily remember afterward.

Youthful shenanigans aside, every member of a flight crew had the right to invoke crew rest if that standard couldn’t be met. The lowliest of airmen, still wet behind the ears with tech-school afterbirth, could stop a flight ordered by a Lieutenant Colonel if they could justify the infraction. And no one could say anything.

But luckily, that rarely happened due to the culture that emerged around that regulation. Crew rest was not to be messed with, except in the most extreme of circumstances.

[Related: Shippers, brokers now subject to enforcement under the coercion rule]

I know that truckers are justifiably wary of regulations. There is no shortage of bad ones. But I think there may be something that the trucking industry could benefit from in the AFMAN11-202v3 provisions regarding interrupted rest periods. If Uncle Sam, shippers, and tech companies are going to continually create devious new ways to babysit and harass drivers, I think it’s only fair to give drivers the means to protect their own rest periods, with enough teeth to ensure compliance from the worst offenders.

I’m definitely not qualified to write the regulation. But I’d imagine that most truckers would giggle at the idea of being able to issue a foolhardy DOT officer a personal fine for waking a driver during their rest period. Or being able to anonymously report an obsessive shipper or broker prying for information that they already have, or when shippers demand an email update when a trucker is driving. ... I’m sure the list of deviant examples could stretch for miles.

Maybe giving drivers the ability to fix this problem themselves is worth a shot. It would put those e-logs to good use. I’m sure that drivers would appreciate getting back some control of their own working lives. And who knows, maybe the proceeds could go toward fixing the parking shortage.

After all, the ability to get 8 or 10 hours of uninterrupted rest is all about safety, right?

[Related: How to file a coercion or harassment complaint]