It’s been a week since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released the contents of its proposed rulemaking on Hours of Service and since we have a long holiday weekend ahead, we thought we’d offer a special web version of Eye on Trucking and offer some points to ponder.
Point No. 1
From our conversations with trucking industry stakeholders, the decision to not set a specific number of driving hours caught everyone off guard. We haven’t talked to a single person during the past four or five months who didn’t believe the proposed rule would include a provision for 10 hours of driving, despite the fact that no one could imagine FMCSA coming up with sufficient empirical data to support a 10-hour rule.
Virtually all our contacts agreed: to have come out with a proposed 10-hour driving rule would have been equivalent of thumbing the proverbial nose at all the work the Bush administration did in developing the current rule.
FMCSA said it prefers a 10-hour rule (translated: special interests and unions want a 10-hour rule), but FMCSA seems to be looking for someone to come up with some strong evidence that 11 hours is not the way to go.
Point No. 2
For carriers still using paper logs, we believe the required one-hour break during the 14-hour driving window could become the most-abused and violated portion of any HOS rule ever.
It’s going to be so easy for truckers to simply log the break as off-duty hours and keep on driving.
A highly-respected source tells us that there are simply too many variables to know for sure that a trucker has driven over the allocated hours based on speed, weather conditions, congestion, accidents, etc.
It will be very easy just to record the break and not take it.
Point No. 3
The required break and the change in the 34-hour restart rule has the potential to force more trucks on the road during the day, further congesting the highways, especially major traffic corridors.
(A friend once told us that you could walk from Little Rock, our home base, to Memphis, Tenn., on Interstate 40 on top of trailers.)
We believe that there simply will be no place for truckers to pull over and rest during the overnight hours when truck stops and other legal truck parking areas are already overburdened.
And since many states do not permit trucks to park on exit ramps, there’s no place else to turn.
As for the restart rule, truckers who drive overnight will have a tough time complying with the portion of the proposed rule that requires two periods of 12 midnight to 6 a.m. during the 34 hours.
Point No. 4
Everyone assumes that team drivers will be required to take the one-hour break, too, but when we asked FMCSA to be sure, the response was “that will be clarified in the Final Rule.”
So for the purpose of this point to ponder, we’re going to assume teams are included.
Under the current rule, team drives are required to spend the 10 hours they are not driving in the sleeper berth.
The proposed rule allows them to spend two hours in the passenger seat, so long as those two hours are the first two hours after the completion of 10 hours of driving or the last two hours before resuming the wheel.
Once they figure out the rule, we believe most will take those two hours at the end because of the scenario we’re about to describe.
Driver A finishes his/her run, climbs in the sleeper berth for the required eight hours and Driver B takes the wheel.
Even though he/she is in the berth, it takes an hour or so to wind down and they finally go to sleep.
Seven hours into Driver B’s shift, he/she has to stop for a break and the gearing down, slowing down and stopping of the truck will likely awaken Driver A after six hours of sleep.
And, where is Driver B going to rest?
In the driver or passenger seat or inside the truck stop.
None of those options seem really conducive to rest, do they?
Point No. 5
Congress is eventually going to have to decide the Hours of Service controversy.
The e-mail from FMCSA announcing the proposed rule had hardly landed in mailboxes across the country before groups on both sides of the issue responded.
The American Trucking Associations, which we believe has a good working relationship with governmental agencies that regulate trucking, said the DOT had dropped “three big chunks of coal under trucking’s Christmas tree.”
Safety advocacy groups who filed suit against the current and two previous HOS rules, said the proposal “waffles on safety measures needed to reduce driver fatigue.”
They also said that the agreement to give DOT the opportunity to review and revise the rule also gave those same groups the right to return to court and proceed with the lawsuit if the new proposal is “substantially the same” as the Bush administration rule.
So we are almost assured that the Final Rule will wind up in court and the merry-go-round will start all over again.
We’d like to get your thoughts on these points to ponder.
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In the meantime, Happy New Year.
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