Analysis: A new hope for hours of service?

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 12/11/2017

One could easily say 2017 kicked off the era of Knock Out Bad Regs. A number of burdensome regulations have been withdrawn or shoved to the back burner in the new age of regulatory reform ushered in by the Trump administration.

More truckers might actually embrace calling 2017 a win if it weren’t for one major nagging regulation barreling toward the industry as of press time. The electronic logging mandate is still set to go into effect on Dec. 18.

With protests, demonstrations and online pushback on social media, hope is not completely gone for delaying the mandate. Interestingly enough, the arguments against electronic logging devices are starting to shine a very bright light on another regulation in serious need of an overhaul – the hours-of-service regs.

As opposition to the electronic logging mandate tuned in their arguments, coercion and hours of service bubbled to the top of the list frequently. It’s not that running more than legal hours is a problem. The problem is the lack of flexibility to accommodate the unpredictable nature of trucking and the fact that regulating truckers into the exact same work schedule ignores personal needs and preferences when it comes to rest.

Are the stars aligning?
As the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association launched its Knock Out Bad Regs campaign this year, it surveyed its membership on existing regulations. Given the expansive regulations facing truckers, a definitive Top 10 list was easily determined. Interestingly enough, three of the Top 10 regulations in need of being “knocked out” were portions of the hours-of-service regulations. Chart listing top concerns of truckers

The 14-hour daily clock, the 30-minute rest break and the split-sleeper berth restrictions all made the list. The arguments against each centered on the lack of flexibility these provisions create.

But how right is the climate for a change to the hours of service regulations?

It’s not that far of a stretch to imagine that hours of service need revisited. The Association has even laid some solid groundwork for those advocating for changes.

Since 2013, FMCSA has granted petitions for exemption from the 30-minute rest break and the 14-hour on-duty clock to 14 groups and organizations. Ranging from livestock and bee haulers to concrete mixing operations, each organization pleaded its case to increase flexibility in the HOS regulations because of the commodity hauled.

Once granted, not one group has been unable to renew the exemption when it was set to expire. While the agency requires additional reporting of wrecks and things of that sort while under the exemption, obviously the exemption in no way was counterproductive to the safe operation of large trucks. Otherwise, if crashes had increased, the exemptions would not have been renewed.

These exemptions have been so “successful” in the mind of the agency, and apparently Congress, that the FAST Act now allows the agency to award exemptions for five years and not just two anymore. Also, the FAST Act granted permanent exemptions to truckers hauling perishable construction products, bees and livestock.

Additionally, states routinely waive the hours-of-service requirements on truck drivers through emergency declarations or states of emergency. These waivers allow truckers to work well beyond the normal HOS restrictions to deliver disaster relief and recovery materials as well as assisting in the cleanup following a disaster.

The impending electronic logging mandate also has played a significant role in articulating problems with the hours-of-service regulations. If the mandate goes into effect, it is certain to start putting a fine edge on the rigidness of the regulations and the unintended consequences it will create.

Getting everyone on the same page
While it would be easy to stop at electronic logs, calling them the nexus for hours of service reform, that may not be the case.

In addition to regulatory reform, the President Trump has called for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

It’s not clear what the White House wants in the NAFTA redo. OOIDA and others continue to lobby the administration to drop the long-haul program. Based on the president’s past trade, immigration and security promises, Trump could find himself agreeing with the U.S. truckers. It was reported by Bloomberg in February that the Teamsters met with Trump about it and said afterward that Trump “seemed open to the idea” of rejecting Mexican long-haul trucks beyond the commercial zones.

Renegotiations of NAFTA kicked off in August. Trucking grabbed a lot of attention in the third round of negotiations held in Canada in September.

While trucking groups rallied against long-haul trucks from Mexico, many of the negotiations continue to preach and seek “harmonization” between the United States and Canada, while possibly pushing Mexico’s government to a similar regulatory scheme.

Currently, all three countries operate under different hours-of-service regulations. Drivers who operate cross-border must operate under the regulations for the country in which they are currently operating. While the U.S. and Canada operate under similarly constructed hours-of-service regulation, drivers from Mexico are governed by laws similar to hourly wage laws in the U.S.

In short, that means math and adjustment as drivers cross the border.

These negotiations could add some international influence on possible hours of service renegotiation, especially considering the flexibility built into the regulations.

The Canadian regulations allow 13 hours of driving in a 14-hour workday. But, that’s not what most U.S. drivers find particularly attractive. It’s the flexibility.

The Canadian regulations allow for splitting off-duty time and deferral of off-duty time. Additionally, drivers can take up to two hours of off-duty time during the day, extending the 14-hour clock to a 16-hour day. There is much more to the regulations, but the gist is simplicity and flexibility.

Is it time for a change?
It’s a new age in Washington, D.C. Even Beltway insiders aren’t sure of what is going to happen next. But there is agreement that – with the atmosphere of uncertainty along with an agenda that favors regulation reduction – nothing really is out of bounds.

Would it be best to go back in time to a previous version of the hours of service? Given that the 34-hour restart got its own reset back to its previous unrestricted form, one could assume that a roll back of restrictions could be in order. Or is it time to try something like the Canadian rules?

Changing the hours of service rules, along with any other regulation, would depend on truckers getting active and making their voices heard. We want to hear your hours of service stories. Tell us what works and what doesn’t work and why you think they need changed. Email us at Letters@LandLineMag.com.

 

 

Copyright © OOIDA