by Dick Larsen, senior editor
Many were nonplussed after FMCSA’s April release of new hours-of-service rules, which critics say favor shippers and receivers but do little to improve safety.
The new rules, which go into effect Jan. 4, 2004, say truckers must rest at least 10 hours between shifts, an increase of two hours over current regulations. However, drivers can spend up to 11 hours at a stretch behind the wheel, up from the current 10, and are allowed to put in an additional three hours taking breaks and performing other duties — a 14-hour workday.
The definition of on-duty time has not changed. Drivers still must log a host of duties including time waiting for dispatch, working on a truck, loading and unloading — activities that are mostly uncompensated and cut into driving time.
“Drivers should remember they have a 14-hour window in which to drive, that’s it — they can’t extend the 14 hours,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs.
“These rules are inflexible because they fail to reflect day-to-day problems of real-dash world trucking— all the more reason to support June Safety Month.” Craig added. “We believe an effective legal alternative for drivers is for them to work in strict compliance with speed limits, the current HOS requirements and all rules and regulations.
Each duty period must begin with at least 10 hours off-duty, rather than the current eight. The 60 hours on-duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on-duty in eight consecutive days remains the same, but drivers under new rules can ‘restart’ the seven- or eight-day period by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty.
“The only saving grace is that drivers under the new rules can restart the clock after taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty.”
In addition, drivers may split on-duty time using sleeper berth periods. They may accumulate the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty taking two periods of rest in the sleeper, provided: Neither period is less than two hours; driving time immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not exceed 11 hours; and the on-duty time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not include any driving after the 14th hour.
FMCSA claims the new rules attempt to mirror the body’s natural 24-hour Circadian rhythms, unlike the current rule, which is based on an 18-hour day for most long-haul applications.
OOIDA President Jim Johnston said he was grateful to FMCSA for abandoning its initial proposal, especially the proposal for 24-hour-a-day electronic surveillance of drivers, but added there will be only limited gains in road safety under the new rule.
“Not until shippers and carriers stop pressuring drivers to break the rules, and drivers are paid for all the work they do, will the hours-of-service rules have their intended effect,” said Johnston. “After almost 65 years of working with regulatory controls that should have been declared obsolete decades ago, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a revision to address today’s problems.
“Whether or not the federal government allows a trucker to drive 10 or 11 hours a day makes no difference to many shippers and carriers, whose only concern is that their loads are delivered on time,” Johnston said. “Drivers who refuse to make deliveries on unrealistic and illegal time schedules demanded by shippers are routinely denied business or forced from their jobs.”
In addition, shippers also routinely make truckers wait for long periods of time before they are allowed to load or unload their truck. Some even require drivers to unload their truck and perform warehouse work, such as restacking pallets. Shippers do not pay for this time and work, and have no incentive to treat drivers differently.
“Not only is this work unpaid, but it steals the time that drivers have under the rules to do the work they are paid for: driving the truck,” Johnston said.
To bring attention to these problems, the OOIDA board of directors has declared June Safety Month. This month, OOIDA members and truckdrivers across the country will make an extra effort to obey all of the trucking safety rules and to resist the pressure to violate them.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters also thinks the new rules ignore the vital element they were supposed to solve — improving safety.
“Working behind the wheel of a truck is hard,” James P. Hoffa, Teamsters general president, said. “These new rules from the Department of Transportation will only increase driver fatigue, and we know that fatigue creates danger on the highways.”
More on the new rules
Short-haul truckdrivers — those who routinely return to their place of dispatch after each duty tour and then are released from duty — may have an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period.
The 16-hour exception takes into consideration legitimate business needs without jeopardizing safety, FMCSA says. The agency estimates that without the extra two on-duty hours, the industry would be required to hire at least 48,000 new drivers, actually reducing crash-reduction benefits.
Meanwhile, daily log rules remain unchanged. Those drivers operating within a 100 air-mile radius of the driver’s normal work location, who return to that location and are released from duty within 12 hours, will keep time cards as allowed under the current rules.
While FMCSA announced no immediate plans to mandate the use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBR), or ‘black boxes,’ it will expand its research into EOBR and other technologies, including alternatives to encourage their use to ensure HOS record keeping and compliance.
While FMCSA has concluded that the safety and economic data needed to justify an EOBRs requirement in the HOS final rule are not available at this time, there are several technologies that offer significant promise, FMCSA says, adding it plans to investigate in this area.
“Safety is the Bush administration’s top transportation priority,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said. “Over the last several years, FMCSA has made great progress in reducing commercial vehicle crash fatalities, and this rule should help to continue that momentum. If we can lower the cost of moving freight by 1 percent, the additional benefit to the economy would be more than $98 billion annually.”
Dick Larsen can be reached at email@example.com.