Fatigue and hours: A driver's perspective

Fatigue and hours: A driver's perspective

Amid all the hysteria about the amendment to the U.S. spending bill that will change the 34-hour restart provision in the U.S. truck driver hours of service rules, a few critical facts have not been widely discussed or made available to the general public. They are:  

1. A 34-hour restart is NOT required to be used to comply with the federal Hours of Service Regulations (HOS).

2. A driver’s on-duty time working time — which includes driving, fueling, loading, unloading, paperwork and repairs — is limited to either 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. This is called a duty cycle. The carrier chooses which duty cycle they will use, but they must choose one of the two.

3. The provisions that were struck down by the bill only allowed one restart every seven days. This restart had to include two back-to-back 1 a.m.-5 a.m. periods. That time is based on the carrier’s home time zone.

4. The 34-hour restart does not allow you work longer, it just resets your duty cycle clock to zero hours worked. This means that you are starting a new duty cycle within the HOS limitations of the hours available to work.

5. If you work 8.75 hours per day you can legally work 365 days a year. You will never exceed the HOS duty cycle by doing this.

6. We are required to take a 30-minute break before 8 hours of on-duty work time (either driving or other non-driving work related activities).

7. HOS regulations allow a maximum 14 hours on-duty time before we are required to take 10 hours off-duty.

8. The maximum allowable driving time during this 14-hour “window” is 11 hours. With 3 hours available for non-related work activities, such as loading, unloading and fueling.

9. Many shippers and receivers require appointments. The freight we are moving may have come across the country.

10. Our work does not involve a single-week perspective. We work weeks to months at a time gone from our families and homes.

Here's how the rules affect my business and how I used to use the 34-hour restart provision (before the 1 a.m.-5 a.m. and 168 hours restrictions were introduced). I would leave my home in Alberta, Canada with a load for New York City. The distance is 2,250 miles one way. My delivery appointment was usually Tuesday at 6 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. I would get into New Jersey Sunday afternoon (approximately 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, or 5 p.m. EST) and start my weekly reset. I would take Monday off and then at approximately 2 a.m. MST (4 a.m. EST) Tuesday I would get up and drive to my delivery in the Bronx. The last 20-25 miles of travel I could do in under an hour at 4 a.m. local time. I would get to my customer, park and go back to bed until they banged on the door to back into the dock. Usually this was at 6 a.m. local time but occasionally it would be close to noon.

This was one night I did not have to set an alarm for the morning. This always gave me a good regenerative rest. No stress from clock watching to stay on schedule for my appointment. I would reset at the Vince Lombardi Travel Plaza. I would spend my day taking a walk, reading or watching movies. I would phone home a couple of times but go to bed early as I was getting up early to go to my customer. Then catch another two to four hours of sleep while they unloaded the trailer. Then with the 14-hour day restriction my day would end at 4 p.m. MST (6 p.m. EST). This allowed me time to unload and start reloading in the Five Boroughs of New York and then drive out to the truck stop for the night.

With the tighter 2013 HOS provisions now being suspended, I would not have been able to: 1) Use the restart provision or 2) been allowed to leave New Jersey (to drive into the Bronx) until 7 a.m EST (5 a.m. MST). Needless to say I would not use the 34-hour restart provision as this would have entailed a financial risk of losing a customer by being late for my appointment. So Instead of having a day off, right in the middle of my trip, I would work 10 to 12 days straight. I would adjust my work hours to stay within the limits of my duty cycle (see this XRS blog entry on recapturing hours of service for an example of how this can be done — ed.). Occasionally this resulted in missing a load, which resulted in a lost sale for the New York/New Jersey shipper and lost revenue for my business. We compensated for this by charging higher rates for all freight movements. This financially hurt us, the shipper and the employees of the shipper and their suppliers.

Having two consecutive nights off-duty would have been a disaster! The second night I would toss and turn as I was not tired. That would make me fatigued the next day.

If I had taken the 34-hour restart after July 2013, this is what would have happened: If I arrived in New Jersey at 10 a.m. on a Sunday, my restart would end 43 hours later. This was caused by the required two back-to-back 1 a.m.-5 a.m. periods.

I would use another reset when I arrived home five to six days later. With the seven-day (168 hour) restriction this would not have been possible so either I reduced my time at home or gave up revenue that was needed to keep my business financially sound.

Greg Decker of Airdrie, Alberta, Canada is an owner-operator with 25 years and 4 million miles of truck driving experience. His company is Triple Decker Transport.