Give it a Rest

Give it a Rest

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.

It''s been 65 years since the government last changed truck driver hours-of-service regulations, so what''s another 60 days?

That seems to be the federal government''s logic in creating a new 60-day "discretionary period" when only the most egregious violations of the new HOS rules actually will be ticketed for violations with fines of between $550 and $11,000. For the rest, it''s a little break-in period to get accustomed to the new regulations, which decrease a driver''s overall on-duty time from 15 to 14 hours while allowing one additional hour of driving, from 10 to 11 hours, in any 24-hour period.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asks that states only write warnings - instead of issuing citations - for all but flagrant violations, DOT officials said on the eve of the Jan. 4 changes. Come March 4 that grace period expires, DOT officials say.

"We must do whatever we can to make certain everyone is aware and in full compliance as soon as possible," said Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta.



It''s estimated that the new hours-of-service rule will save 75 lives, prevent 1,326 fatigue-related injuries and prevent 6,900 property-damage-only crashes annually, savings the American economy of $628 million a year.

The enforcement decision is meant to ensure long-term compliance and understanding of the new safety rules, Mineta said. The new rule represents the first major rewrite of the hours-of-service regulations in 65 years.

It is designed to synchronize the commercial drivers'' work and rest schedule better to reduce fatigue and save lives, according to the government. As a New Year''s gift, the government ordered states to give inattentive truckers a break to get used to the new arrangement.

"We are finding that too many truckers still have questions about these rules," Mineta said. "It''s our version of on-the-job training for drivers who aren''t sure how or whether the new safety rules apply to them."

But even top government officials, not to mention shippers and some carriers, wonder how the rules will work in the day-to-day work of real-world trucking that is known for its on-the-fly, just-in-time approach that shippers enjoy.

"This new rule combines the best scientific research and real-world analysis to prevent driver fatigue," said FMCSA Administrator Annette M. Sandberg. "The measure of a rule is how well it works. That is why we are taking every step to make sure drivers know about the changes and follow them."

Not everyone agrees.

In research of its more than 100,000 members, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, found that "strict compliance" with the HOS revisions would result in between 30 and 40 percent loss of productivity of drivers.

Coupled with what trucking executives say is a developing driver shortage, that could create what OOIDA calls a "monumental impact capable of shaking the current truck transportation system to its roots."

The key factor is time drivers spend waiting at docks. In the past, many shippers and consignees treated this as "free time" because no one was actually paying for it. Drivers simply logged it as off-duty time; now it is counted as part of the overall 14-hour on-duty time.

"The trucking industry for the most part not only ignored this problem but in fact has willingly participated in further developing an environment that contributes to its increasing growth and perpetuation," OOIDA President Jim Johnston says. "The reason for the oblivious attitude toward the problem is that most (shippers and consignees) don''t think it costs them anything other than an occasional complaint from drivers."

In the past, drivers have been encouraged (and in some cases more or less ordered) to falsify logbooks by recording their waiting time as either off-duty or sleeper-berth time. Drivers often keep two or three sets of log books: one to get paid, one that complies with DOT regulations, and a real one. Officially these logs are called "record of duty" books; unofficially, some drivers call them comic books.

The government acknowledges they are a problem. It had a chance to correct it with a requirement of electronic onboard recorders, which are available for as little as $900 and about the size of a Bible. They are widely used in Europe for an actual reading of a driver''s mileage with times recorded. But OOIDA and other driver interest groups threatened lawsuits on Fourth Amendment grounds and the government backed off.

"The problem of logbooks is one of the most difficult areas of enforcement," admits Sandberg.

The government is claiming it performed a cost-benefit analysis using two scenarios. Under the "full compliance" scenario, it claims the regulations will save the trucking industry $900 million a year. Under the "status quo" compliance scenario, it claims increased expenditures will cost the industry $1.3 billion. The difference, according to FMCSA Associate Administrator Warren Hoemann, is accounting for $2.3 billion in crash-related damages that fatigued truckers would cause under the "status quo" scenario.

The trucking industry challenges these figures.

J.B. Hunt President and CEO Kirk Thompson says most truckload operators will see productivity losses of between 3 and 5 percent. Schneider National President of Transportation Scott Arves has even a wider range - between 2 and 19 percent. One large shipper, Wal-Mart, which operates a large private fleet, estimates a total loss for its drivers of 5,694 hours per day, which would add $24 million to its costs, a 6 percent rise.

The fact is, nobody really knows what the costs will be until they operate a few months under the new rules. Carriers with lots of stops and waiting time figure to get hit the worst; longer-haul carriers may get nicked some too. Unionized LTL carriers figure to escape with the least additional costs.

"Anecdotally we do know there are shippers and carriers who are worried about how to optimize the time a driver sits at a loading dock," said Sandberg, noting the new rule received more than 53,000 comments during its adoption. "A lot of drivers and shippers realize that is where inefficiency is in the system."



Logistics guru Robert V. Delaney, senior vice president, St. Louis-based Cass Information Systems and consultant, ProLogis, warns shippers that HOS changes are just one factor in a host of cost pressures facing motor carriers.

Besides a loss in driver productivity, carriers will have to hire additional drivers and probably pay them more. Schneider, for example, already has set pay raises between $1,500 and $4,500 to take effect Feb. 1.

Delaney also notes carriers are being hit with property and casualty insurance rate hikes as high as 300 percent. All this comes as fuel remains stubbornly high in the $1.50 per-gallon range and the new 2003 Environmental Protection Agency-mandated engines are getting between 5 and 9 percent less fuel mileage. And new EPA-mandated emission standards are coming on line in 2007.

Delaney warns that shippers face higher costs and possibly newer "detention costs" to account for drivers'' waiting time at docks, which is now suddenly valuable on-duty time. He predicts healthy rate increases for trucking, an industry in the doldrums since the freight recession began in early 2000.

"This is not going away," Delaney says. "Ignorance is not an option."

The government claims the new regulations provide commercial truck drivers a work and rest schedule that is more in line with a person''s circadian rhythm and thus is expected to significantly reduce driver fatigue. For example, the new rules allow long haul drivers to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Similarly, truckers may not drive after being on duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted only after a driver takes a "weekend" off, that is, at least 34 consecutive hours off duty. The old rules allowed 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period and required only eight hours of off-duty time.



Detailed information about the rule is at www.fmcsa.dot.gov, and FMCSA has staffed a toll-free telephone line around the clock to answer drivers'' questions. The phone number is 1-800-598-5664.