by Dick Larsen, senior editor
In an effort to create something palatable to all, regulators often come up with a recipe that leaves a sour taste.
That might be said of the new HOS regulations — a lot of chefs cooked up this mess — and in the end, truckers seem to be the ones who must bite the hardest.
Regulators insist new HOS regulations that go into effect Jan. 4, 2004, if not successfully challenged in court, will increase safety. However, industry insiders say the rules would more likely bring about the opposite result, because they don’t address on-time delivery pressures truckers face each day.
What’s more, the HOS rules don’t regulate shippers and there’s little oversight of carriers — without some meaningful changes on their part, truck drivers are left to chew on what their future might entail.
Meat in the seat
Most agree the key HOS change is the new 14-hour shift, where the clock can’t be stopped. Under those circumstances, shippers under on-time delivery pressure are more likely to urge drivers to “wink and nod” at the 14-hour rule — even when the driver is tired.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Annette Sandberg acknowledged the problem.
“One of the things I’ve been told is that a lot of the shippers are just simply not aware of the new HOS changes and their impact on drivers,” she said in a recent Land Line interview. “We probably need to make sure they understand the implications if they can’t get a driver in and out fairly quickly.”
Another result of the new rules is that freight rates may rise because truckers, who are paid according to miles driven, will have to be paid more to make up for reduced on-the-road hours.
Under the new rule, drivers can work only 14 consecutive hours with 11 hours maximum driving time, rather than the 10 hours of maximum driving time they can now work consecutively. Second, drivers must remain off-duty a minimum of 10 hours after a 14-hour shift, rather than the current eight hours they must be off.
As truck drivers tell Land Line: “All they really want is ‘meat in the seat.’”
Carriers and shippers respond
Land Line reader Ray Hughes, Lima, OH, has 35 owner-operators who work for his company. He recently attended two HOS seminars and concluded a unified effort might get shippers and consignees to improve their loading and unloading times.
His suggestion: Enforce a one-hour waiting limit at either end — or put in place a substantial detention rate.
“The more I get into the new HOS rules, the madder I get,” Hughes said. “We need a standard, collectable, $60-an-hour detention charge just to keep the drivers from going under.”
However, the central problem is trying to get paid from shippers, receivers and especially brokers, because it’s difficult to get one to pay for another’s perceived inefficiencies.
“We can hopefully raise our rates and pay the driver a little better by-the-mile, but if he makes $1 per mile and you equate that to $1 a minute at 60 mph, I can’t see how we can make up the shortfall in wages, which will cause us to lose even more independent contractors.”
Meanwhile, in a recent financial statement, Werner Enterprises said the new 14-hour rule is like a running clock.
“As a result of this change, issues that cause driver delays such as multiple stop shipments, unloading/loading delays and equipment maintenance could result in a reduction in driver miles,” the company said.
Werner further reasoned that since most truckload carriers pay drivers by the mile, a reduction in driver miles would result in a reduction in driver pay. For this reason, Werner told its customers this fall it is increasing charges for multiple stop shipments and for equipment detention.
The company said: “If a customer’s freight system causes a driver delay that results in a reduction of the driver’s driving hours under the new hours-of-service rules, carriers will need to work with customers to minimize such delays, such as improving the efficiency of the loading or unloading process. If this cannot be improved, customers will need to compensate carriers to make up for a mileage shortfall.”
Werner did not respond when asked whether drivers would receive a portion or all of that compensation.
Meanwhile, officials with Schneider National, Green Bay, WI, have said they will increase drivers’ per-mile pay to make up for the lost drive time drivers will face. The impact will be greater for loads that routinely cause delays for drivers, such as multiple-stop loads, the company said.
As a result, Schneider has told clients to expect rate increases between 4 percent and 19 percent, depending on the characteristics of freight being moved, according to press reports.
Moreover, in a recent letter to customers, Schneider said pay decreases it expects will make it more difficult to hire and retain drivers, something it says is “an already daunting task given the current regulatory and lifestyle requirements of long-haul driving.”
On the other hand, shippers expressed a different view at a recent meeting in Atlanta sponsored by Schneider and Georgia Tech’s Logistics Institute, according to press reports.
Basically, shippers said new HOS rules should not be an excuse to raise rates. “From a shipper’s standpoint, the hours of service can’t be a lightening rod for a broad round of rate increases,” said Tony Brooks, vice president of transportation services for Sears Logistics Services.
Other shipper representatives at the conference said carriers should substantiate the impact of the new rules and work cooperatively to eliminate delays that can drive up costs.
“No doubt costs will go up,” said Jim Andrews, transportation manager for North America for Newell Rubbermaid. “But we don’t intend to take an increase just because of this change.”
HOS violations to be expected, at first
At the Atlanta conference, Researcher Dale Belman of Michigan State University in Detroit said the new rules in theory allow some drivers to work more — as many as 3,366 hours a year compared with 3,000 hours a year under the old rules — because of the extra hour of driving time allowed each day, a 34-hour restart provision and what he termed the “lack of effective enforcement.”
But Belman said he expects violations of the 14-hour rule to be commonplace and, as a consequence, “It is unlikely the new rules will markedly reduce driver fatigue.”
Thomas Marlow, a division administrator with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration who spoke in Atlanta, said the agency stands by its calculation that the new rules will reduce the number of fatigue-related deaths on the highway.
Scott Arves, president of Schneider National’s Transportation Division, said it’s too late in the game to mitigate the impact of the new rules.
“Every driver hour now is golden,” he said. “The industry has to commit to something that is long overdue and allow the driver to do the work he was hired to do.”
Dick Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.