Proposed Hours of Service Rule Changes

Posted: January 13th, 2011 by Militant Libertarian

by Aaron Turpen, GreenBigTruck

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed a new set of hours-of-service (HOS) requirements for commercial drivers.  These will amend the current HOS which went into effect almost a decade ago.

These new rule changes would retain the 34-hr restart provision, but would limit restarts to once per 7-day period and would be required to include two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6am.

The new rules would also require a driver to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday and to complete all work-related activities within 13 hours (allowing for a 1-hour break).  The total hours of allowed driving time (currently 11/day) may be reduced to 10 hours, but will be debated.

Drivers would be allowed to extend on-duty shifts to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate loading/unloading at terminals and ports as well as to allow for longer off-duty time in a parked truck while on-site.

Fines would be increased to up to $2,750 per offense for violating HOS rules and trucking companies that knowing allow drivers to violate these limits would be penalized up to $11,000 per offense.

The proposed new rules can be found at this link.  Public commentary on the new rules are open until next month.  Final rulings will be made by July 26.

My Perspective

Now it’s time for some editorial.  HOS rules hit home for most over-the-road drivers and meet mixed reactions from them.  Most drivers, in my experience, hate them.  There are two reasons for this, which non-drivers may not understand, so I’ll attempt to explain fully.

First, a driver is required to keep a log book.  This log book, like your IRS tax forms, is a self-incriminating document.  The driver is required to keep one and everything that the driver includes in that log book (driving hours, time spent at docks, etc.) can be used as evidence to fine the driver or otherwise punish the driver if they’ve broken the law.  So drivers must be intimately familiar with not only how the HOS rules operate (complex as they can be), but also with how local and regional rules might affect that rule book.  Here’s a for-instance to show you how this works (under current rules):

A driver is moving along I-80 going eastbound from Salt Lake City, Utah.  She passes through the canyons and into Wyoming.  Up to that point, her speed limit has been 65mph, but because of her load and the hills, her average is closer to 50mph.  She arrives in Evanston, Wyoming, at the port of entry in about two hours.  Her arrival at the state-run POE is documented, so her log must reflect the same time or she faces a penalty.

Leaving the Evanston POE, she drives across Wyoming (about 450 miles) to the Nebraska border.  The speed limit in Wyoming is 75mph and she averages nearly 70mph on her drive.  She has now driven for about 8 and one half hours plus fifteen minutes at the POE in Evanston.

She continues driving, through Nebraska, until she arrives at North Platte, at which a Nebraska port of entry is located.  The speed limit through Nebraska is 75mph and she has again averaged about 70mph.  Another 2.5 hours have passed to her arrival at North Platte, so her total drive time is now 11 hours exactly (by the book, no cheating).

She is due to deliver in Omaha tomorrow morning – another 277 miles (4 hours or so) away.  Because she must comply with the HOS rules, she must now change her sleep schedule to accommodate the change in time required.  It’s now 5pm and she’s been on the road since 6am.  To make her 8am appointment, she will have to leave before 4am (times are all on her clock, Mountain Standard).  Her 10-hour required off-duty time can begin now and she can be ready to go at 3am legally.  Her clock just shifted by 3 hours thanks to the HOS rules.

Her other choice is to risk getting caught cheating and continue driving this afternoon, putting in another 2 hours or so to get her closer to the delivery point so she can wake up earlier.  If she chooses to cheat, she will have to fake her log book to pretend she stopped here for the night and/or to pretend that she was able to meet the speed limit all the way through.

Truck drivers do this every day.  Hours of service and appointments require that they adjust their sleep time and internal clocks regularly or risk fines by cheating the system.  It’s my experience that most drivers do a little bit of both in their normal routines.

These new rules are not going to change that.  They will, in fact, only add more complexity and make things worse.  In my experience hauling produce, for which shippers and receivers are rarely in a hurry to load and unload, I would bump against the 14-hour rule constantly.  Drivers get paid by the mile, not by the hour.  So time wasted sitting on a dock, sucking up log book time, is time that isn’t paid for.

I used to pick up carrots at a facility in Bakersfield, California, for instance.  The place is notorious for not caring about a driver’s time.  I could arrive at the gate and check in to be loaded at 10am and not be in the dock actually getting loaded until 5 or 6pm that night.  I’m sure little has changed.  I would literally count on the place being my truck stop for the night (despite having to keep the CB radio on and be half-awake to hear my name called for loading) because to do otherwise would mean not being able to drive once I left the place.  No driving means no money.

So, like taxes, federal hours of service rules are just another government regulation that people figure out how to cheat their way around.  These new additions won’t change that other than, in my view, to make it more likely that drivers will cheat and freight costs will go up anyway.

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