Scare tactic
Opponents of the 34-hour restart provision claim that it allows truckers to work 82 hours a week. Is that even possible?

By Jami Jones, managing editor

“If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.”

This quote is often attributed to Paul Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister in Nazi Germany. It’s been debunked that he actually said it; some concede he may have said something close to it.

In other words, people eventually buy into their own propaganda, true or not. That’s what has happened in the great debate over the voluntary 34-hour restart provision in the hours-of-service regulation.

The voluntary provision is designed to allow truckers to take an extended break and reset the 60-hour and/or 70-hour on-duty clocks. Many truck drivers chose to use the provision on weekends at home. Others, seeing that they were going to have a long wait on a load, would use it during the week. The reasons and timing of the restart are as varied as the trucking industry itself.

In the most recent revision to the hours-of-service regulation in 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration bought into a claim from opponents of the provision that it allows truckers to work 84 hours a week. The agency morphed the 84-hour contention into the now repeated 82-hour average week. The opponents said that if 34-hour restarts were taken multiple times within a seven-day period it would actually allow truckers to work up to 82 hours – well over the 60-in-seven and 70-in-eight limits in the regulations.

The debate over the voluntary 34-hour restart heated back up again in June.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill that would temporarily suspend the requirement of two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnights during the restart and would allow more than one restart in a seven-day period. The amendment passed and was rolled into the appropriations bill on a vote of 21-9.

In announcing her amendment, Collins took aim straight away at some of the misinformation that was being circulated about the amendment.

“This amendment does not, does not make changes to the maximum number of hours per day that a driver can be behind the wheel. … It does not change the mandatory 30-minute meal or rest break during a shift … it does not change the total on-duty window in each shift … it does not change the minimum off-duty hours required between shifts … it does not change the sleeper-berth requirement for splitting off-duty time,” she told committee members.

Once it passed, the opponents and their 82-hour propaganda machine were set into high gear once again.

Scott Grenerth, director of regulatory affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, says the 82 hours are “numbers that don’t add up.”

“Discussion about the Collins amendment has included multiple references to an 82-hour workweek. The intent is to conjure images of incredibly tired truck drivers who must be stopped,” Grenerth said. “Fortunately, professional drivers do not want to work 82 hours, and reality makes it absolutely impossible to work 82 hours. The point has even been made by the FMCSA that the majority of companies do not even hit the 70-hour limit.”

To illustrate how absurd the 82-hour assertion is, Grenerth logged out an eight-day scenario that shows on paper what would have to happen to achieve an 82-hour week.

The 82-hour workweek can only exist in a hypothetical environment on paper. Occurring in real life is all but impossible, according to Grenerth.

“Achieving an 82-hour average workweek is only possible on a graph,” he said. “In order to achieve it, a driver would never encounter delays. Shippers and receivers would always have loads ready and be prepared to unload trailers immediately.

“Traffic tie-ups would never occur. Every shipping and receiving facility would have to be open 24/7 – including holidays – to accommodate the schedule. And the weather would have to be perfect all the time.”

In logging the improbable perfect case scenario, Grenerth logged days in which the only off-duty time is the mandatory 30-minute break and 10 hours each day in the sleeper berth.

“What’s missing?” he asks. “Waiting for a load to be ready. Making a repair to the truck or trailer. Getting stuck at a truck stop waiting to fuel. Waiting to switch trailers with another driver. Taking a sleeper berth break of any length other than exactly 10 hours.

“It is an absolutely impossible schedule, and 82 hours is a number that is only a scare tactic,” Grenerth said.

The debate is likely to heat up again when Congress takes up consideration of the THUD bill after the November elections. Shortly after the Collins amendment was passed by the committee in June, Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined a conference call by opponents of the restart to say they would offer an amendment before the full Senate to strip the Collins amendment from the THUD bill.

A suspension of consideration of the THUD bill in the Senate didn’t allow for much debate or opportunity for Booker and Blumenthal to take a run at the Collins amendment.

Eventually both chambers of Congress will have to finalize a THUD bill – potentially as part of an “omnibus” bill to fund the entire government. That’s when the debate will likely heat up, and opponents to the Collins amendment will trot out the 82-hour fallacy again.

Leading up to that potential debate is the time for truck drivers to act.

“With Congress likely to return to appropriations bills – including for the DOT – after the November election, it is very important that truckers share the facts about the restart with their senators, representative and their staffers,” Ryan Bowley, OOIDA director of government affairs, said.

“Showing them logs like the ones Scott Grenerth did and how it’s all but impossible to accomplish with the inefficiencies in the industry, or even just sending a quick email message through are good ways to do it. We hear from professional drivers about the true negative safety impacts of the 2013 restart restriction. Facts like these need to be heard above the propaganda.”