Counting the hours

With seven months to go before implementation, there is no consensus yet on whether revisions to driver hours-of-service rule will create a temporary headache or trigger a logistics nightmare.

Carriers’ initial reaction to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new hours-of-service rule ranges from praise to mild disappointment to concern. Most executives, however, seem to believe the effects of the revisions will not be dramatic.

The largest association for trucking companies supports the rule as one its members can live with. Representatives of the American Trucking Associations emphasize in particular the virtues of the final rule versus the May 2000 proposed rule, which was widely and deeply despised by carriers and drivers alike.

Few would argue with ATA on that point. In fact, in a survey of 251 CCJ readers, nearly 85 percent said the final rule was better than the proposed rule.

“These changes are absolutely more reasonable than the earlier proposed changes,” says Billy Nunnery, vice president of JR’s Trucking, a 30-truck carrier based in Van Buren, Ark. But Nunnery views the final rule as far more than an improvement over the proposal. “The new rules will benefit the industry while increasing the safety of our business,” he says. “The ability to restart after 34 hours consecutive off is a great benefit as opposed to the changes proposed in 2000. I welcome it and wish it started sooner.”

Not all trucking professionals speak of the new rule so glowingly, however. In last month’s survey, only 5.6 percent said they considered the new rule to be substantially better than the current regulations. And although 45 percent thought the new rule was somewhat better, essentially the same percentage believed the revisions were either somewhat worse than current regulations or not significantly different.

More than half of the carrier executives surveyed did not see the revisions as having a significant effect on highway safety, and more than a quarter did not believe they would have a significant effect on driver productivity. Indeed, the view of many appears to be that the revisions are a non-event.

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“For all the time and money that was spent on getting to this point, I cannot see that they have delivered any earth-shattering changes,” says Carolyn Maddix, safety director for River Bend Transport Co. in North Bend, Ohio. “I think the money could have been spent on educating the public to learn to share the road with semis.”

Some trucking executives, however, are concerned. One change in particular – the prohibition against driving after the 14th hour once a driver’s shift begins – could significantly alter the relationships among carriers, their customers and their drivers.

Showdown with shippers?
By establishing a 14-hour window during which a driver must complete his driving, the revised rules seem to penalize drivers and carriers for inefficiencies at shipper and consignee docks. Not only will drivers and carriers continue to suffer lost productivity as they do today, they also will lose available driving hours – unless they can force customers to cooperate. In fact, some carriers believe the success of the new rule rests squarely on whether customers will care enough to help.

“It’s important that the trucking industry comprehend this whole thing,” says Bill Wiese, director of safety for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Raven Transport. “But I think it’s even more important that our shippers and our consignees really understand what the driver needs to do now with these new rules.” Carriers will need help in the form of better pickup or delivery times or permission for drivers to park at their facilities, Wiese suggests.

Jeff Wilmarth agrees that carriers must spend the coming months educating their shippers and receivers. The new hours rule could magnify existing utilization problems, especially excess waiting times. Customers will have no choice but to support more drop-and-hook operations, argues Wilmarth, president of Rockford, Ill.-based Silver Arrow Express. “I want to be a trailer salesman for the next few years,” he quips. And if not drop-and-hook, shippers must facilitate immediate loading and unloading or some other solution, Wilmarth says. “You somehow have to circumvent the bottleneck.”

But Wilmarth, whose fleet numbers 27 power units, is realistic. Reform must come at the behest of the trucking industry’s major players, he says. “A little guy like me has no leverage.”

Trucking executives want to believe that the potential consequences of inaction – hefty charges for excessive waiting time or the inability to get equipment – will be severe enough to get shippers and consignees to change their ways. But experience has taught some to be cynical.

“With the 14 consecutive hours on duty, shippers and customers need to be more efficient in getting drivers in and out, which is not going to happen,” says Keith Shartzer, director of safety for Pegasus Transportation Inc. in Jeffersonville, Ind.

In any event, solutions will not come overnight. Drop-and-hook operations, for example, require parking areas that may not exist. Other changes in business practices, such as more

Conversions from sleepers to day cabs, such as was done with this Mack Vision, have been popular in recent years. Could the relief the sleeper berth exception offers from the 14-hour window for driving make the reverse conversion popular?

distribution warehouses, would take time. Seven months won’t be enough time for everyone to prepare even if shippers and consignees were convinced they needed to do so.

Many carriers see the 14-hour window as the most significant change in the rule. Some may try to persuade FMCSA to reconsider that aspect of the hours-of-service revisions, but it’s unlikely the agency will change its position, observers say.

Stopping the clock

In many cases, a shipper or consignee won’t be sympathetic, and dock inefficiencies will continue. A couple of provisions in the hours-of-service rule will help carriers offset the productivity loss to a degree. For example, FMCSA retained the sleeper berth exception for both team and solo drivers. Using the sleeper berth is the only way to “stop the clock” on the 14-hour window for driving, and that fact may very well change the way some carriers operate.

Consider Raven Transport. “We do not run teams at all,” Wiese says. “We have always highly discouraged the sleeper berth exception. But with this rule, I see that it’s going to play a key role in our runs because that’s the only thing that’s going to stop the 14-hour clock.”

But even this flexibility will require customers’ cooperation, Wiese says. He notes, for example, that for safety reasons, some consignees require drivers to hand over truck keys while the truck is at the dock. Depending on the weather, this policy effectively takes away the driver’s opportunity to use the sleeper berth.

To use the sleeper berth exception, a driver needs a sleeper berth, of course. It remains to be seen whether carriers using day cabs today will find it advantageous to acquire sleepers in the future or even convert day cabs to sleepers. In many cases, such as strict drop-and-hook operations, sleepers might be unnecessary. But in any operation where excessive waiting is an actual or potential problem, the existence of a sleeper berth offers an advantage in flexibility.

Resetting the clock
The hours rule really operates on two clocks. One governs the amount of time available for driving before an off-duty period is required. The other governs the cumulative on-duty time available over a period of days – 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days. The new voluntary 34-hour restart addresses the latter and offers flexibility not available today. At any point during the work week, a driver can start a new week by taking 34 consecutive hours off duty. With this provision, a driver could be on duty for up to 98 hours in an eight-day period compared to 70 hours under today’s rule.

The benefits of the 34-hour restart aren’t automatic, however. For example, determining where a driver will be when he is up for the 34-hour break will require planning, says Dick Reiser, executive vice president and general counsel at Werner Enterprises. “It may be key to whether the driver takes the break or doesn’t.”

Nor does there appear to be much consensus on the value of the 34-hour restart in practice. Asked to what degree the 34-hour restart would improve flexibility, 26 percent of CCJ survey respondents said substantially, while 28 percent said it would have little or no effect. The remainder said it would improve flexibility slightly.

The 34-hour restart is already shaping up to be a source of friction between
carriers and drivers. ATA has advocated the flexibility of a weekly restart for about 10 years. But drivers are suspicious of how carriers will apply the restart. (See “View from the driver’s seat” above)

Unforeseen consequence?
Adding two hours of off-duty time obviously affects productivity, although the effects may be lost amid the more challenging 14-hour driving window. But the extra off-duty time could easily lead to a problem that will be all too obvious.

“I don’t think a great deal of thought has gone into where these trucks park for the longer break,” says Stanley Staten, transportation director for H.L. Lawson and Sons Inc. in Roanoke, Va.

Raven Transport’s Wiese agrees, saying that parking was the biggest concern raised by his drivers in the first few weeks after FMCSA published the revised hours rule. “They are glad to have the opportunity to get more rest, by all means. But their greatest problem with it is where they are going to park,” he says. “They are saying, ‘It’s great you are giving me more time to rest. Now please tell me where I can rest.'”

Safety concerns
Some trucking managers worry that creating a window during which all driving must take place encourages unsafe practices.

“I see drivers getting upset while waiting to get loaded or unloaded, and speeding to make it back to a terminal before the 14 hours are up,” says Thomas Clark, fleet manager for Moen Inc. in Kinston, N.C. “Tie the added speed and upset drivers together, and I see nothing but problems for everyone on the road.”

Gene Jenkins, general manager of Terrain Tamers Chip Hauling in Dillard, Ore., likes the 10 hours off-duty provision, but believes that allowing 14 hours to get in 11 hours of driving “will tend to push drivers into long stretches of driving with no breaks for rest or meals. Only time will tell for sure, but this rule may cause fatigue to be increased.”

Others think a more fundamental change is needed to promote safety. “I personally believe that until drivers are allowed to sleep when they’re sleepy and drive when they’re rested, there will not be a significant improvement in safety,” says William Wall, president of William Edwards Inc. in Verona, Va. “I believe that there should be a maximum number of miles allowed in a 24-hour period and a set number of non-driving hours. Then let the driver decide when to sleep and when to work.”

Wonder how the new rules will affect your operation? Ask drivers to keep track of hours separately as if they were operating under the new rules. Or if you really want to see the impact, try them out. Current rules don’t allow that extra hour of driving or give you the flexibility of a 34-hour restart. But there’s nothing to prevent you from requiring drivers to take 10 hours of consecutive off-duty time or from restricting driving time to the 14 consecutive hours allowed under the new rules. Imposing these constraints on your operation might not be competitively or financially advisable, but it could put you ahead of the game come Jan. 4.

The 34-hour restart is among the top concerns

As carriers scramble to analyze the new hours-of-service rule, drivers and owner-operators are already forming strong opinions. Many fear the new rule will mean even longer hours and less pay. Based on comments in the public docket and drivers interviewed by CCJ, some of the biggest concerns are that:

  • The new rule is less safe than the current rule;

  • Drivers will lose several hours of driving a day;

  • Trucking companies will use the 34-hour weekly restart to exploit drivers

Under the new rule, carriers will demand more out of their drivers and pay less for it, says Paul Sasso, a trucker who works for an owner-operator. He is concerned that dispatchers will push drivers to eke out 60 or 65 more miles in a driving period to service shipper schedules.

“The 11th hour will benefit carriers, but it won’t benefit drivers,” says Sasso, a 30-year driving veteran from Edgewater, Fla. “It allows you to work longer and work harder but burn out faster.”

Local less-than-truckload hauler Garrett Nunn of Croswell, Mich., worries that driving an extra hour per shift will lead to more accidents. “As it is, 10 hours of driving is tiring, now [FMCSA officials] want us to try to over-extend ourselves,” Nunn complains. “We are all going to now be at greater risk of accidents.”

Some drivers are concerned about the additional hours of off-duty time. Over the course of a typical trip, company driver Timothy Begle figures he will lose as many as 12 hours of productivity. “They’ve added to my boredom time,” Begle says. “Free time is home time. Some people may like this extra time. But not people that are at home every weekend.”

Other drivers worry that carriers will use the new voluntary 34-hour restart in a way that strands drivers away from home in order to reset their weekly allotment of hours. In addition, some drivers are concerned that the 34-hour restart could lead to burnout.

“After 34 hours off, a driver’s clock is reset, and now he could work 98 hours in 8 days,” says driver Mark Eaton of Peoria, Ill. “It’s a good thing my company just offered extra life insurance. My wife and kids will need it.”

That sentiment was echoed by Albert Minnich of Pine Grove, Pa., who has been an over-the-road driver for 23 years. “Letting us restart our clocks after having 34 hours of consecutive time off is incomprehensible. What other occupation does that? Many drivers aren’t living till retirement age as it is, and you want to allow us to drive more,” Minnich told FMCSA.

Although driver fears may be exaggerated or unfounded, fleets grappling with the impact of the new rule must deal with those fears as a very real threat to driver satisfaction.
– Sean Kelley

The following are among the “frequently asked questions” that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has posted on its website. For a complete list of questions and answers, visit this site.

Will drivers still be able to split the sleeper berth time?
Yes. Drivers may split on-duty time by using sleeper berth periods. These drivers may accumulate the equivalent of 10 consecutive hours off-duty by taking two periods of rest in the sleeper berth, provided:

  • Neither period is less than two hours;
  • Driving time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not exceed 11 hours; and
  • The on-duty time in the period immediately before and after each rest period when added together does not include any driving after the 14th hour.
  • What happens if a driver is on-duty for 14 hours, but not driving?
    If a driver is on-duty, but not driving, on a particular day, the driver may remain on-duty for more than 14 hours; however, the driver cannot drive after the 14th hour after coming on-duty. Also, the additional on-duty time will also reduce subsequent on-duty time available under the 60/70-hour rule.

    May a driver spend part of his 34 hours of consecutive off-duty time in a sleeper berth?
    Yes, provided the 34-hour period is consecutive and not broken by on-duty or driving activities.

    Does the driving time for 100 air mile radius exception drivers (require no log book) increase to 11 hours or is it kept at its current limitation of 10 hours driving?
    A property-carrying driver using the 100 air mile radius exception is subject to the 11-hour driving time, 12-hour on-duty time, and 10-hour off-duty time requirements of the new rule. However, a passenger-carrying driver using the 100 air mile radius exception is subject to the 10-hour driving time, 12-hour on-duty time, and eight-hour off-duty time requirement of the old rule.

    If a driver is on call, but has not been called for 34 hours, may those 34 hours be counted as a 34-hour restart?
    Yes, provided the carrier has not required the driver to report for work until after the 34-hour period has ended.

    May a driver be called after eight hours off-duty to report to work two hours later?
    The final hours-of-service rule does not control communication between the driver and the motor carrier during the driver’s off-duty time, so the call may occur. However, the driver cannot, in addition, be required to do any work for the motor carrier during the 10 hours of off-duty time.