By Jami Jones
Citing the need for breaks during the day, for a reduction in stress, and for maximizing quality driving time, truckers say flexibility is the key to improving the hours-of-service regulations.
That was the message delivered time and time again at all of the listening sessions. The rigid nature of the 14-hour on-duty clock and the current split sleeper-berth exemption were repeatedly challenged as actually causing stress on drivers.
Listening session panelists and other attendees at the Dallas session were peppered with a long list of questions from OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz – questions that highlight the pressures truckers face every day.
|“How many of you put in 40 hours a week without getting paid?”|
|“How many of you are forced to perform physical labor for no pay?”|
|“Do you get fined by your employer for showing up late because you were unfortunately detained in traffic as a result of an accident?”|
|“Are you expected to ‘go off the clock’ to complete a task?”|
|“Do you have difficulty finding a place to get some shut-eye, in an environment where you’re expected to suffer extreme temperature shifts?”|
|“When was the last time you slept in your car in the middle of summer or winter with no heat or ability to cool, thus impacting your ability to get truly restorative rest?”|
Rajkovacz urged the panelists to see that simply setting limits on drive and work time, and not addressing the additional pressures that truckers face – nor giving drivers the flexibility needed to counter those pressures – will not improve anything.
“The majority of drivers out there are interested in flexibility,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told the panel in Davenport, IA. “Flexibility in the sleeper berth. Flexibility to be able to take a break in the middle of the day.”
The rigidness of the 14-hour on-duty portion of the rule was challenged time and time again at all the listening sessions as being counter to safety, forcing drivers to stay on the road rather than stop for a nap.
A cornerstone argument behind that portion has to do with keeping drivers in a 24-hour circadian rhythm, and Spencer tackled that argument head-on.
He highlighted how science alone cannot dictate when a driver really needs to rest.
“Circadian cycles are real. But sometimes in the afternoon, you just get sleepy,” he said. “You don’t need eight hours of sleep, but you do need a catnap. You can push through that need for a nap, but is that in the interest of safety?”
A number of drivers also beat the flexibility drum, sharing stories of coercion, stress and wasted time and the fact that drivers, ultimately, are the ones who pay.
“Everything is coming down to a stranglehold on the drivers out here,” Bob Kinsey, an OOIDA member, told the panel when he called in. “I’m a professional driver, but I’m not treated like it out here ... unless I do something wrong.”
Repeatedly, drivers talked about if they only had the flexibility to take a nap or break during the day – perhaps while delayed at docks – they would not lose their productive driving time because of the 14-hour clock. And they would be driving more refreshed.
OOIDA Member Tom Bower of Nicholasville, KY, who is a small-fleet owner and driver, drove that point home very simply to the Iowa panel.
“Waiting makes you tired,” he called in and told the panel.
OOIDA Life Member Harold Babbitt of Fremont, NE, may have very well put the exclamation point on Bower’s statement in Iowa when he recounted his waiting time at one shipper’s facility.
“You talk about fatigue. Dominex forces me to sit on a bench four to five hours while getting unloaded when I could be in the sleeper,” Babbitt told the panel during his comments.
Many drivers continued to push for shippers and receivers to be subject to some accountability under the hours-of-service regulations.
That point, one that OOIDA representatives and members have made at all four of the listening sessions started drawing follow-up comments from the FMCSA panelists, asking how loading and unloading time should be logged, etc.
Spencer encouraged the agency to look at making the industry better by going a step further and implementing economic incentives and disincentives on shippers and receivers.
“Some people might gasp and say that will add to the cost of goods. Not if shippers and receivers schedule drivers better and get them in and out,” he said.
“Right now, a driver’s time is not his own,” he said.
Another way to give drivers more control over their time would be for company drivers to be paid by the hour rather than by the mile. He underscored that point by saying if company drivers were under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which mandates overtime pay, less driver time would be squandered by motor carriers, shippers and receivers.
The existing regulations were entangled in a lawsuit filed against FMCSA by Public Citizen. In late October 2009, the two reached an agreement that effectively is sending the hours-of-service regulations back through the regulatory process – way back through the process.
FMCSA agreed to prepare a new notice of proposed rulemaking in nine months, and reach a final rule in 21 months.
The agency will be starting a new rulemaking on the hours-of-service regulations this summer. In the meantime, agency personnel will review the comments provided at the listening sessions, comments made by phone, and comments submitted to the docket.
As of press time, the agency was planning on submitting its proposed hours-of-service regulations to the White House for review in June. LL