The problem with the current hours-of-service regs is that they do not address the fundamental problem facing truckers today: coercion.
That was the message the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association delivered loud and clear in its comments on HOS to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
"Some drivers, however, express concern with the current rule because they have faced pressure from motor carriers, brokers, shippers and receivers to log on-duty time as off-duty (or sleeper berth) and to maximize their amount of time on the road (use the full 11 hours of driving every day and get back on the road precisely after a 34-hour restart)," OOIDA officials stated in the association's comments.
"This is not a problem with the rule per se, it is the age-old problem of driver coercion."
And that won't change until FMCSA directly addresses the problem, OOIDA points out.
The association comments listed some of the strong-arm tactics used against drivers - carrier manipulation of the rules as well as long, unpredictable periods of uncompensated loading and unloading time demanded of drivers by motor carriers, brokers, shippers and receivers.
Assessing higher penalties against the drivers for noncompliance is clearly not the answer, according to OOIDA's comments.
"Drivers who are penalized and have their Commercial Drivers License suspended or revoked will only be replaced by other drivers who will face the same pressures. OOIDA urges the FMCSA to devote its attention to this problem."
In regard to the regs, as they stand, OOIDA said a survey of its membership revealed that the members view the 11th hour of driving, the 24-hour restart and the sleeper-berth exemption as safe, flexible and productive tools that provide greater opportunities for them to complete their work in a time frame that gets them home or to a better place for rest.
However, OOIDA points out that the 14-hour "daily" time limitation is not liked by a majority of drivers because it discourages them from taking short driving breaks and naps during the day.
"As a result, many drivers no longer take as many naps or driving breaks as they did under the old rule," OOIDA states.
The association took the opportunities presented by the questions posed by FMCSA to zone in on various shortcomings of the rule.
OOIDA took a strong stance on the impact of anti-idling regulations around the country and their negative impact on driver health and drivers' ability to get a decent night's sleep.
OOIDA believes that anti-idling rules pose a big challenge to the success of HOS.
"The growing patchwork of anti-idling rules in states and localities is a very real threat to drivers who rely upon their sleeper berth to obtain sleep and rest," OOIDA stated in its comments.
The fundamental problem is that no one is able to get quality rest in extreme temperatures.
"Anti-idling laws that expect drivers to rest in their cabs and sleepers in extreme temperatures for long periods of time without air conditioning or heating create an unreasonable health and safety burden on those drivers," OOIDA wrote.
OOIDA used some federal heavy-hitters to back up its position, citing both the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Both agencies have extensive information warning of the negative effects of temperature extremes on worker health and safety, including fatigue.
"These agencies ask employers to make special provisions for workers in extreme temperatures, including limiting their exposure to such temperatures and giving them frequent breaks, proper clothing, and sufficient liquids and nutrition," OOIDA's comments stated.
OOIDA then explained that truckers do not always have the same resources as "stationary employees" or flexibility to heed that kind of advice.
As far as dodging the heat or freezing cold by getting a room at a hotel, OOIDA lets FMCSA know that is not a real financial option on a continuing basis - it's simply cost-prohibitive for too many drivers.
Split sleeper-berth provision
The wording of the split sleeper-berth provision has been problematic since the current hours of service kicked in more than a year ago.
"One absurd application of the sleeper-berth exemption is the requirement that a driver be physically confined to the truck's sleeper berth for the second sleeper-berth period even if the driver had arrived at home, a motel or another location where the driver could obtain rest or sleep someplace other than inside the truck," the comments stated.
OOIDA explains to FMCSA that the association believes a fair resolution to the problem that the wording of the split sleeper-berth provision creates is that the driver be allowed to replace the second sleeper-berth period with the standard 10 consecutive hours off.
"That time period is already accepted by the agency as sufficient to get a night's rest and would allow the driver the flexibility to restart the next day's schedule without having to relate back to the first sleeper-berth period," the comments stated.
Loading and unloading
There is one subject area untouched by agency action, according to OOIDA. And if there are going to be any improvements in compliance with the hours-of-service rule, FMCSA needs to address loading and unloading issues.
Under the current rules loading and unloading are to be logged as "on-duty" time.
"But drivers have little or no ability to predict and plan for how much time they will be required to wait at a shipper or receiver's site or whether they will be required to participate in the loading or unloading," OOIDA commented.
In addition to the fact that loading and unloading is an unpredictable drain on on-duty time, OOIDA points out that FMCSA has yet to address the big picture.
"The agency has taken no serious look at this problem, as Congress required," OOIDA stated.
The association's comments remind FMCSA that in 1995, Congress ordered the DOT to revise the existing commercial motor vehicle HOS rules, providing that the Federal Highway Administration "shall issue an advance notice of proposed rulemaking dealing with a variety of fatigue-related issues pertaining to commercial motor vehicle safety (including eight hours of continuous sleep after 10 hours of driving, loading and unloading operations.)
"To the best of OOIDA's knowledge no attention has been paid to examining the effect of loading and unloading operations on the hours-of-service compliance or how the related problems may be addressed."
By waiting at the dock some 33 to 44 hours per week, drivers find themselves in a situation where it's tough to comply with HOS.
"OOIDA urges the FMCSA to consider these issues if it wishes to make more than minimal gains in truck safety and hours of service compliance."