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Ferro on HOS: 'We are not changing the rule'

Since the new version of HOS went into effect, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said the number of violations has decreased. (Courtesy: MID-WEST TRUCKING ASSOCIAIION)

By Aprille Hanson
The Trucker Staff

1/31/2014

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro threw down the gauntlet when it comes to Hours of Service during the Q & A portion of her keynote speech at the Mid-West Truck & Trailer Show in Peoria, Ill., Friday.

“We are not changing the rule,” Ferro said firmly, as The Trucker listened in to the speech. “This is the first time in a decade that we’ve got a rule that passed legal challenge. There are today no changes afoot.”

However, Ferro quickly followed that the door is still open to comments.

“There continues, though, to be commitment on my part to one, take what we are hearing to improve how we are explaining the rules so that everybody has examples you can use while training your drivers, dispatchers and safety directors,” Ferro said. “And that we understand what the impact is on your operation and how many different ways that’s being interpreted. And two, continue to research to see, down the road, you know … to see what is the best approach. But again, this rule is in place.”

That statement came after Ferro spoke to the crowd of drivers and trucking executives on several topics including electronic logging devices, Compliance, Safety, Accountability Scores and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s overall safety mission.

The current HOS rule, which began being enforced July 1, 2013, stated that the 34-hour restart provision could only be used once every 168 hours and must include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. Drivers are also required to take a 30-minute break after working eight consecutive hours.

Ferro pointed to her two-day ride-along from Maryland to Missouri with owner-operator Leo Wilkins in November, where she slept in the truck’s sleeper berth.

“What an eye-opener for me, what I knew in theory, of the operations and regulations already put in place,” Ferro said during her keynote.

Since the new version of HOS went into effect, Ferro said the number of violations has decreased. In July there were about 12,000 violations of the 30-minute break provision, but in November, that had reduced to about 9,500.

Between July and November — in reference to the rule about drivers not driving after 60 hours in seven consecutive days or 70 hours in eight consecutive days — the violations dropped from about 525 to 435.

“It comes down to ensuring your drivers and you are rested behind the wheel,” Ferro said to the crowd.

She discussed the agency’s Hours of Service Field Study released Thursday, which focused on the 34-hour restart provision and the effectiveness of the new rules. According to the study, conducted by Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and Philadelphia-based Pulsar Informatics Inc., scientific evidence supported that the restart once every 168 hours and including two nighttime periods of rest between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., fights driver fatigue and saves 19 lives a year.

“Say it’s going to save 19 lives and every life is worth a lot … then good, let’s keep it up … but can we do something that could save 219 lives? We need to be seeking that solution,” Gary Salisbury, past chairman of the Truckload Carrier's Association and president and CEO of Fikes Truck Line, Hope, Ark., said to The Trucker. “If we got the flexibility back when we could rest when we’re tired, we could see accident and fatality rates go down.”

The study did not evaluate the use of a restart only once a week, which has been a particular point of frustration for drivers and trucking executives, who say their productivity has been cut by 4 to 8 percent.

Trucking leaders and organizations like the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association expressed skepticism and disappointment in the lack of analysis on key areas in trucking in the study.

Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., who introduced legislation to invalidate the rule until six months after the agency reported to Congress on the study, called it “worthless.”

“The evidence, the objective data, actually affirms that the natural sleep patterns, the ones that are all inherent to our physical make-up, resume when they’re on their off days,” Ferro said, referring to drivers who haul freight during the night. She also said the study was conducted with those drivers in mind.

Another boiling point for drivers has been the sleeper berth provision. Before 2005, drivers could split the sleeper berth time so long as no period was shorter than two hours. The FMCSA conducted studies to reach the current ruling, which requires drivers to spend eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth and does not allow them to stop the 14-hour clock to catch a nap if they’re tired.

Ferro said this provision was the portion of the rule that drivers complained about the most at events she’s attended and offered a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

She announced the FMCSA will begin a pilot program later this year, collecting data regarding the alertness and sleep quality of drivers while splitting the sleeper berth times. 

“We’re testing the possibility of bringing flexibility back into a driver’s schedule,” Ferro said.

“Common sense and being pragmatic is very important in this business,” she told trucking executives. “There’s a big balancing act to play. You play it every day because your drivers are out on the road with other drivers. It takes all of us, including the shippers.”

She said she would continue “to use any resource within my authority to hold shippers accountable.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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