SPECIAL REPORT: Truck drivers preach virtue of needed flexibility in HOS

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 1/25/2010

LOS ANGELES – Albeit in a non-trucker friendly environment, there was no shortage of input from truck drivers in the third listening session on hours of service held by FMCSA in Los Angeles today, Jan. 25.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration agreed late this past year to take the hours-of- service regulations through yet another rulemaking process. In the months leading up to the agency launching into that process, a series of listening sessions was scheduled to hear from industry stakeholders.

However, even though the initial locations picked by the agency weren’t the most easily accessible to allow for personal attendance by truckers, that didn’t slow them down from weighing in at the Los Angeles listening sessions.

Truckers in attendance at the session got up anywhere between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. to fight the notorious L.A. traffic just to have their voices heard. Others from around the country phoned in their views.

Their message was heard loud and clear: The rigid hours-of-service regulations must have more flexibility if the desired improvements to safety are to ever be realized.

OOIDA Life Member Michael Goldstein of Los Angeles highlighted his daily life as a fuel hauler in the L.A. area as an example of the need for flexibility.

“You never know when you arrive at the rack if you’re going to be there a little bit or a long time,” he told the FMCSA panel. “If I run out of hours while waiting to get loaded, there could be a (fuel retailer) run out of fuel.”

Goldstein, who routinely navigates the busy L.A. highways, talked about how short breaks could help him when traffic is snarled for two or three hours because of a wreck. He told the panel that the stress created by being stuck in gridlock – and forced to stay there because of the rigid 14-hour-clock – could easily be avoided if he could just pull over and take a nap until traffic cleared.

OOIDA Member Ronnie Hendrix called in to the listening session. Hendrix drove home the fact that unpredictable, uncompensated loading and unloading times pile stress on drivers.

“An over-the-road truck driver … spends as many hours waiting to load or unload as much as someone spends at work in a normal 40 hours per week,” Hendrix told the panel.

Echoing Hendrix’s comments, another truck driver from Hollister, CA, said he delivered a load of milk late Sunday just to make it to the listening session. OOIDA Member Corey Artman said that with delays in loading and unloading he could feasibly spend more time each week loading and unloading than he could driving.

The listening session opened with FMCSA’s “legal disclaimer” delivered by FMCSA’s Chief Counsel Alais Griffin, who cautioned participants “not to read anything” into follow-up questions asked by FMCSA’s panelists. However, it was obvious that input is not being limited to simply “improving” the existing regs.

One follow-up question posed by FMCSA’s Larry Minor was whether drivers think logging loading and unloading time separately – possibly creating a line 5 – that did not count against a driver’s time would be of benefit. Minor is the associate administrator for policy and program development.

Another follow-up question sought input on mandatory rest times during the day. While truckers on the phone and in person weren’t happy with being told when they might get tired, they didn't shoot down the idea of mandated rest breaks, as long as drivers chose when to take them.

FMCSA is currently holding only one more listening session, Thursday, Jan. 28, in Davenport, IA. However, agency panelists told Los Angeles participants and callers that a fifth listening session could be scheduled – with one listening participant suggesting Louisville, KY, during the Mid-America Trucking Show.

Truck drivers interested in submitting comments can click here for more information.

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