Could adding team drivers help recover hours or productivity lost under the new hours-of-service rules? Not necessarily. In fact, the new rules may make teams less productive, according to U.S. Xpress.
Under the new rules, team drivers won’t be able to do a “rolling 24-hour” restart that minimizes truck downtime, said Bob Viso, the truckload carrier’s vice president of safety. Under that “rolling” restart, both team drivers get the 34 hours of off-duty time required to restart their weekly work cycle, but the truck they drive is inactive for only 24 hours. Here’s how it works: The first driver goes off-duty while the second driver takes the wheel for 10 hours. Then both drivers are off duty for 24 hours. The first driver then comes back on-duty while the second driver finishes the remaining 10 hours of his or her restart period.
That keeps the more than 550 teams run by U.S. Xpress moving with little downtime each week. As of July 1, however, the requirement that the 34-hour restart include two consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. periods will make that rolling switch-off between team drivers much more difficult, Viso said. “To us, it seems the best way to handle it would be for the drivers to take the 34-hour restart at the same time,” he said. “That way, the truck is down for only 34 hours.” Otherwise, a team truck might have to run as a solo rig for a couple of days, depending on when one of its drivers begins the restart, Viso said.
That’s just one of the complexities facing trucking companies as they try to rethink dispatching and scheduling, educate drivers and inform customers about the changes they can expect after July 1. “Drivers are really concerned about how the restart provision will affect them,” and whether they’ll be able to earn the same amount if they wind up with fewer miles per week, said David Tomshack, manager of safety compliance for Chattanooga, Tenn.-based U.S. Xpress. “To optimize the 34-hour break you need to shut down at 7 p.m., and that’s hard to do. And if you have to drive until 2 a.m., you’re going to be off-duty for 51 hours, and where can you park your truck that long?” he said.
Truckers who go off-duty between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. would be able to restart the clock between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. two days later, but that would put them on the road during the morning rush hour. In urban areas, that would mean entering heavy traffic and creating greater congestion, Tomshack said.
U.S. Xpress is selecting groups of drivers to participate in a pilot test of the new restart. “We need to get true numbers to see how this will impact us,” Tomshack said. “Without that situation where a driver and dispatcher are making decisions in a live environment, I’m not sure we can know what that will be.”