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1/21/2005
HOW-TO-GUIDE: Want to comment about HOS?

Here's OOIDA's guide to the questions FMCSA wants you to answer

The long-awaited hours-of-service proposal was recently unveiled and opened for comment. It isn't anything new, instead the current HOS regs are being used as the "proposed" regs to provide a leaping off point for the comment process.

A federal appeals court kicked back the current HOS rules July 16, 2004, saying that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not take drivers' health into account when it created the current rules. This time, the agency is making it perfectly clear that it is all about drivers' health.

Because of this, FMCSA is requesting comments in an unusual manner.

In some cases, the agency is digging for additional research - research that could either back up the current rules or reveal the problems that exist. In other cases, it is looking for practical, real-life comparisons of the "old" and "new" rules - with the "old" rules being those the industry operated under before January 2004 and the "new" rules being the ones you currently work under. Everything approached in this HOS notice of proposed rulemaking is directed toward drivers' health.

The agency has asked specific questions on a variety of topics that commenters are "encouraged" to directly answer. The following is a breakdown of those questions, by topic and request number. We've chewed down the questions to make it easier for you to comment on the parts of the current HOS that matter most to you.

FMCSA is fishing for research to back up commenters' positions. This isn't absolutely necessary. The real-life, specific, detailed examples can speak volumes for the effectiveness of the new rules or any changes to those rule proposed by the commenters.

But first, it is important for anyone commenting to understand the ground rules - or guidance, as it is put - set by FMCSA in this notice of proposed rulemaking.

The FMCSA has proposed the current HOS regs that the trucking industry is working under to be the "new" rules. That means that all comments have to directly talk about the current rules. Truckers should describe changes they want, or explain why parts of the rule should not be changed.

The most important thing in the process is that comments must have the improvement of drivers' health as the driving force, the point and the focus of the comment.

When writing your comments, you will be able to choose various questions listed below and respond to them. When working on your comments, FMCSA requests you designate your answers to their questions by noting the request number. It's included for you in parentheses at the end of each question.

Following is a topic-by-topic breakdown of the specific questions presented in the notice of proposed rulemaking. Each topic is briefly explained, followed by the specific questions that FMCSA wants to be addressed designated with a bullet:

Combined effects
Because the proposed - remember these are the current rules you're working under - HOS rule is a combination of several elements, such as driving time, reduced driving window, more off-duty time, 34-hour restart, etc., FMCSA wants to know what the "combined" impact of any change suggested by a commenter would be. For example, if you request a reduction in on-duty time, the agency wants to know what that would mean to your time to rest and the ultimate benefit to your health.

  • The agency wants to know whether the current regs give truckers more time for rest and personal stuff than the old ones did. Tell them if the new regs have improved your "quality of life." (E-1-2)

Sleep loss, deprivation
The FMCSA says truckers work long hours, especially long-haul drivers - no big revelation here. But the agency acknowledges that truckers spend a lot of that "working" - uncompensated - time actually sitting and waiting to either be loaded or unloaded.

"This affects their ability to maintain their driving schedules and can have an adverse impact on regular wake-sleep cycles," the NPRM states.

The notice even goes on to note that this pressure by shippers and receivers can, from a compliance point of view, affect the driver's ability to operate legally.

With jargon like the impact of "restorative sleep" on "metabolic and endocrine" functions thrown around, FMCSA is really asking if and how the current HOS rules have helped drivers get sleep that gets them back up to par mentally and physically.

  • How are the new rules better or worse than the old rules? (E-2-1)
  • Are you getting more or less sleep - and is it about eight hours per 24-hour period - than with the old rules? (E-2-1)
  • Is there any "evidence" that 10 continuous hours of off-duty time does not provide enough opportunity for you to get eight hours of sleep each day? (E-2-1)
  • Do naps improve your alertness? When is the best time for you to get a good nap? (E-2-2)
  • Is there some more flexibility a driver could use if he or she chooses to take "certain minimum breaks" that wouldn't reduce the current safety risks or further impair your health? (E-2-2)
  • Does napping when you are sitting up provide the same amount of rest as you would get in the sleeper? (E-2-2)

Environmental stressors
Life on the road can be rough - the diesel fumes, the noise, getting beat around in the cab - and it can take its toll on your health.

The FMCSA, after citing numerous studies, recognizes that these things aren't good for long-term health. The onset of cancer, hearing loss, heart attacks, back problems and diabetes are all thrown around as examples of health issues that life on the road contributes to.

In this section, the FMCSA is asking for statistical data. But a few real-life questions can be addressed.

  • Since the new HOS rules went into effect and driving time went up an hour, what are the consequences to drivers from one more hour a day of exposure to diesel fumes, noise, vibrations, etc.? (E-3-1)
  • Is revision of the HOS rules appropriate to answer the adverse exposure impacts? (E-3-1)

Injuries and fatalities
Transportation workers suffer more fatalities than any other occupational group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly two-thirds of these fatalities are caused by highway crashes. Truckers also have more nonfatal injuries than workers in any other occupation, according to the NPRM.

  • How does fatigue and loss of alertness impact truckers' "workplace" injury and fatalities? (E-4-1)
  • Does the evidence connect these injuries or fatalities to specific aspects of the current or previous HOS rules? (E-4-1)
  • FMCSA wants you to "distinguish" injuries and fatalities related to the HOS and operation of a truck from other workplace hazards, such as those related to loading and unloading. (E-4-1)

 Lifestyle choices
How you live your life - diet, exercise, etc. - impacts your health. These choices can't be regulated. But that hasn't kept FMCSA from posing a couple questions.

  • What effect do lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise and the use of off-duty time have on driver safety and health? (E-5-1)

Time
Driving time, on-duty time and off-duty time - FMCSA is desperately trying to find the right workable mix of these three things that keep drivers healthy.

The NPRM goes on and on about the need for eight uninterrupted hours of sleep and the health benefits of that sleep.

  • What is the impact on drivers' health, safety and economic factors of incremental increases in maximum driving time? (F-1-1)
  • What is the impact of incremental increases in the minimum required off-duty period? (F-1-2)
  • What is the impact of decreases in the "duty period" from 15 non-consecutive hours to 14? (F-1-3)
  • How much does the dropping of duty hours - like from 15 back to 14 - and the increase of off-duty hours - from eight in the old to 10 in the new - offset the increase in driving time - from 10 to 11? (F-1-4)
  • How long is your workday now compared with the old rules? (F-1-5)

34-hour restart
Given the sheer number of pages and validation to the current rule in the NPRM, this is a very hot topic for FMCSA. The agency explains its reasoning for including the restart period by reviewing various on-duty scenarios under the old and new rules and citing quite a few studies.

But what the agency wants to know is:

  • How has the restart impacted fatigue and your ability to get "restorative" sleep? (F-2-1)
  • Is a 34-hour period long enough to provide "restorative" sleep, regardless of the number of hours worked before the restart? (F-2-1)
  • Is this different for a driver working a night or weekend schedule? (F-2-1)
  • What length of continuous off-duty time provides adequate opportunity for most drivers to obtain eight hours of sleep per day? (F-2-1)
  • How many drivers are using the restart option? (F-2-2)
  • How consistently are you using it? (F-2-2)
  • On average, how many hours are you accumulating in seven or eight consecutive days? (F-2-2)
  • How many drivers are consistently maxing out their driving time? (F-2-2)
  • Should the restart option be allowed? (F-2-3)
  • What would the economic impact to the industry be if the restart were eliminated? (F-2-4)
  • What would be the safety impact on drivers' health of modifying or eliminating the restart option? (F-2-5)
  • How would modification or elimination of the restart impact drivers' health and safety as a result on its impact of the 24-hour cycle, or circadian rhythms? (F-2-6)

Sleeper berth
The use of sleeper berth time and being able to split that time is also being reviewed by FMCSA. The sleeper berth provision also gets an extensive amount of ink validating the agency's decision to include it in the current rules.

  • Does sleeping in the sleeper berth, moving or not, have a negative impact on drivers' health or safety? (F-3-1)
  • What are the obstacles to getting enough sleep in the sleeper berth? (F-3-1)
  • Is using the sleeper berth, moving or not, better or worse for getting restorative sleep than in a bed at home or in a motel? (F-3-1)
  • How do temperature changes in the truck because of no-idling laws impact sleeper-berth use? (F-3-1)
  • What is the minimum time in each of two split-sleeper-berth periods necessary to provide restorative sleep? (F-3-2)
  • How often are split-sleeper-berth periods used to make up the required 10 or more hours of off-duty time? (F-3-3)
  • How much time is usually spent in the sleeper berth and how is that time managed or split up? Why? And how does this prevent sleep deprivation? (F-3-3)
  • How does the split-sleeper-berth rule impact team drivers' health and safety compared with the impact for a single driver? (F-3-4)
  • What impact would eliminating the split-sleeper-berth rule and only allowing 10 consecutive hours have on health and safety? (F-3-5)
  • What would happen if FMCSA continued to allow the split but would require one of the two periods be seven, eight, nine hours? If it was seven hours or more,  would that be the same as 10 consecutive hours non-sleeper-berth off-duty time, or would the second sleeper-berth period be required? (F-3-6)
  • What time and money is saved using the sleeper berth rather than commuting to another place to sleep? (F-3-7)
  • How does preventing the extension of the 14-hour duty period through the use of a single sleeper berth period impact drivers' health and safety? Could allowing the use of a limited sleeper-berth period to extend the 14 hours be accomplished without a negative impact on health and safety? What should the length of the limited rest period be? (F-3-8)
  • If the HOS rules stay like they are, how could sleeper-berth time calculations be simplified? How could sleeper berth rules be written more clearly? (F-3-9)
  • Should sleeper-berth time be combined with off-duty time when totaling a continuous off-duty period? Should a driver be able to combine sleeper-berth time that is part of 10 or more consecutive hours off-duty with a later sleeper-berth period to allow a split-sleeper-berth calculation? (F-3-10)

Where to send comments
Comments do not have to be signed and can be submitted anonymously.

All submissions must include the agency name and docket number - which as of Friday, Jan. 21, was listed as FMCSA-2004-19608. When addressing one of the specific questions, clearly indicate the related reference number - these are included at the end of each question for you.

To submit your completed comments, you can:

  • Visit http://dms.dot.gov, beginning Monday, Jan. 24, type in docket No. 19608 and follow instructions for submitting comments online;
  • Visit Federal eRulemaking portal regulations.gov and follow those online instructions;
  • Fax them to: (202) 493-2251;
  • Mail to: Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 400 Seventh St. SW, Nassif Building Room PL-401, Washington, DC 20590-0001;

- By Jami Jones
jami_jones@landlinemag.com

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