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1/28/2010
SPECIAL REPORT: OOIDA, drivers say HOS needs flexibility
By Jami Jones, senior editor

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010 – 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.

The fourth listening session held by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on the hours-of-service regulation drew a standing-room-only crowd with more than 120 people attending the Davenport, IA, session.

Conveniently located next door to the Flying J in Davenport, the crowd was largely truck drivers ready to submit their comments on the hours-of-service regulations. Phone lines were flooded with drivers, numbering more than 40 callers waiting to comment at times.

The message delivered time and time again was the need for flexibility. The rigid nature of the 14-hour on-duty clock and the current split sleeper-berth exemption were repeatedly challenged as actually causing stress and fatigue on drivers.

“The majority of drivers out there are interested in flexibility,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer told the panel in Davenport. “Flexibility in the sleeper berth. Flexibility to be able to take a break in the middle of the day.

Spencer highlighted how science alone cannot dictate a 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?”

Beyond flexibility, Spencer encouraged the agency to look at making the industry better. He pushed for 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.

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.

“Waiting makes you tired,” he called in and told the panel.

OOIDA Life Member Harold Babbitt, Fremont, NE, may have very well put the exclamation point on Bower’s statement when he recounted his waiting time at one shipper’s facility.

“You talk about fatigue. Dominex forces me to sit on a bench 4-5 hours while getting unloaded when I could be in 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 member have made at all four of the listening session started drawing follow-up comments from the FMCSA panelists.

The panel repeatedly heard stories from drivers, and even from one company logbook clerk, that the 34-hour restart is almost invaluable. Drivers routinely use the full scope of the 34-hour restart, many times at home, and even take upward of 48 hours.

Outside the scope of tweaking the current hours-of-service regulations, early on in the session, at least one different way of approaching the rule was suggested. One caller tossed out the idea of tying driving time to sleeper berth time. If you’re in the sleeper berth four hours, you could drive four hours.

As of press time, the panel was still listening to commenters and scheduled to take phone calls until 9 p.m. Central.

Anyone who was unable to attend a listening session or to call in comments, can still comment on the docket. Click here for more information on how to comment.

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