Restarting Trucker Hours

Restarting Trucker Hours

Forget cutting the daily driving limit and shortening the workday, the most unpopular aspect of the proposed truck driver hours-of-service rule might be a provision that would force many truckers to take longer weekends.

A change in the 34-hour restart provision allowing drivers to reset their weekly clocks would keep some drivers at home, or wherever they stop at the end of their workweek, for longer periods, costing work time, miles and money.

Companies that employ or contract those drivers say it also would cut into nighttime driving, putting more trucks on the road during congested daylight hours.

Substantial, costly changes in supply chains would be required to adjust to the rules, starting with higher driver pay and truck rates, opponents to the proposed rule said in comments filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

It’s not a matter of limiting the hours they drive, but of lengthening the hours waiting to get back in the truck to start a new workweek.

Proponents of the change, including labor and consumer organizations and highway safety groups, say the new rule is needed to give truckers adequate rest and prevent drivers and carriers from using the restart to rack up “excessive” driving hours.

What’s not in doubt is the complexity that would come in tracking and balancing hours, dispatching drivers and planning delivery schedules. It also would mean fewer truckers would drive at night.

That would run counter to efforts by many shippers, receivers and carriers to put more vehicles, both local and long-haul, on roads during off-peak driving hours to reduce congestion, operating costs and accidents while improving utilization.

For drivers paid by the mile, the prospect of losing time and pay under the proposed rules looms large. Long-haul drivers who spend weeks on the road would be away from home even longer — undercutting one reason the FMCSA introduced the 34-hour restart.

“It would essentially cost me an entire day,” Tim Weir, a truck driver, told FMCSA officials at a listening session on the proposed rule last month.

Weir was one of many drivers who dialed into the listening session to stress the importance of the 34-hour restart, and urge the FMCSA to leave it alone.

The FMCSA wants to require that each 34-hour restart period include two periods from midnight until 6 a.m. Currently, a truck driver whose hours run out at 2 a.m. on a Saturday can return to work at noon Sunday. Under the proposed rule, that driver would have to wait an additional 18 hours — until 6 a.m. Monday.

That’s a total of 52 off-duty hours, four more than required by the pre-2003 hours-of-service rules. For Weir, that would mean being unable to leave Sunday afternoon or evening for an overnight run to make a Monday morning delivery.

To meet that delivery demand, his company would have to assign the load to another driver. The only way Weir could recoup the revenue lost would be an increase in pay.

Many drivers would face that situation, John Spiros, director of safety at Wisconsin-based truckload carrier Roehl Transport, told the FMCSA panel. “The proposed rule will result in many drivers beginning a tour of duty at 6 a.m., a time when roads are congested with traffic,” he said. “A number of major cities, including New York, Boston and Atlanta, actually restrict trucks at that time.”

But companies with larger fleets, more drivers, locations and greater ability to scale operations may find it easier to adopt to the rules, giving them leverage over smaller competitors. “I don’t believe the restart provision as you’ve drafted it will have a significant negative impact on productivity,” said Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety, security and driver training for truckload and intermodal giant Schneider National. He acknowledged that’s “a different view than some” in the trucking industry hold, but based it on his own operations.

“The average restart break our fleet takes is 62 hours,” he told the FMCSA panel. “That’s certainly well in excess of what the proposal would be, so I don’t see a serious problem,” he said. Fewer than 2 percent of Schneider’s drivers break for less than 40 hours between weekly cycles, he said. “Those are the folks who are breaking over the road,” meaning they end their week on the road, not at home.

Groups opposed to the current rules think the FMCSA’s proposal doesn’t go far enough to prevent potential abuse of drivers by carriers. Although the proposal would limit the use of the 34-hour restart by truckers logging 60 hours in seven days, it wouldn’t affect those logging 70 hours in eight days, Henry Jasny, senior counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, told the FMCSA panel.

“We want something complementary that would apply to those drivers,” he said.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com.