By the time you read this, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will have completed four listening sessions to gain in-sight from trucking industry stakeholders about the proposed new Hours of Service rule.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro set the tone when she addressed the opening session of the first listening session Jan. 19 at Washington when she said it was her agency’s obligation to develop a new rule that mirrored the agency’s three core priorities — raising the bar to enter the industry, maintaining high safety standards to remain in the industry and removing high-risk operators from the nation’s roads and highways.
“Using our priorities as a guide, we have an opportunity to take a fresh look at this critical safety issue,” Ferro told those at the session. “And you will have the opportunity to be a part in some shape or form of the entire process. We are in a very special period in history. The Obama administration has vowed a new era of open government. We pledge to be transparent in what we do.”
Ferro said the goal of the sessions was to “hear what you think — the good, the bad and the ugly. Given these priorities, we can and must do better. One fatality on the road is one too many.”
As we all know, the new rule is necessitated by a settlement in a suit filed against FMCSA by safety advocate groups, the third such suit since the foundation for the current rule was written in 2003.
FMCSA has agreed to issue a new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking this year with a Final Rule to be issued within 21 months of the date of settlement last October.
“We all want the safest roads, the safest drivers and the safest vehicles,” Ferro said. “And to achieve that goal, we need your voice to be heard. With that in mind, let's work together to bring our thoughts and ideas to the table to develop a fresh look at HOS.”
That fresh look will certainly include considerable discussion about the 11-hour driving rule and the 34-hour restart rule, both targets of the public safety advocates, and we figured that if the new rule includes those provisions, a fourth suit will be filed.
Since most truckers would probably be unable to attend one of the sessions, we invited drivers to go to the FMCSA Web site, review the discussion questions posted there and offer comments which we would forward to FMCSA (which we have).
There was relatively little comment about the 11-hour driving rule or the 34-hour restart rule.
What continues to be on the mind of truckers is the inability to extend the 14-hour work day through the use of naps.
“Do not have the government tell us when we should take a short break,” one driver wrote. “Everyone is different, plus depending on the past work schedule, stress of the load and many other conditions, I have found a 30-minute to one-hour break refreshes me as if I just woke up from an eight-hour sleep. Then there are times when I stop to take a 15-minute break and I sleep for three to four hours. The condition that is stopping drivers right now from stopping and taking the needed break is [that] the 14-hour clock does not stop. That is the big mistake. If I stop and sleep for four to six hours, that says my body needed it and now let me drive down the road rested. Instead, you have drivers pushing for the nine- to 10-hour drive time without a break because of the 14-hour day. When we work on line 4 (on duty, not driving), we all understand that is part of our maximum work day, but when I am getting the needed rest to continue on the trip, that should stop the 14-hour clock while I am either on line 1 (off duty) or line 2 (sleeper berth).”
In answer to the question “Would mandatory short rest periods during the work day improve driver alertness in the operation of a CMV?” one driver wrote: “No, I would not like to see mandatory short rest periods. But, I believe short rest periods could be helpful for individual drivers and could be used to allow naps. The driving day could be ex-tended for the rest period if it was equal or greater than two hours.”
There will be other opportunities (comment periods) along the way for truckers to give their opinions on the rulemaking.
We encourage you to follow Ferro’s advice to be a participant, not an onlooker.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.