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By: Phil Sneed


Industry Avoids Lost Hour of Driving as Feared, but Truckers Blasts Other Changes they Say Will Hurt Productivity with No Gains for Safety

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) at long last delivered its long overdue news rules for “Hours of Service” (HOS) in the US trucking industry, failing to reduce by one hour a driver’s allowable time per as most feared by carriers and shippers, but making many other changes that have angered much of the industry. The changes, however will not take effect for 18 months.

The FMSCA, an arm of the Dept. of Transportation, announced almost one year ago to the day that it was looking at amending the rules, after having last done so in 2004. It then delayed its initial goal of delivering any changes by August of this year, after much of the industry argued the proposed changes would due little to improve safety and come at much cost to shippers.

In the end, the FMSCA decided not to change the provision most dreaded by the industry, a change in the driving time from 11 hours per day to 10, a proposal the FMSCA itself admitted it was unclear about when the proposed changes were first announced in late 2010.

However, the FMCSA noted that it will continue to conduct data analysis and research to further examine any risks associated with the 11 hours of driving time it maintained.

But while that bullet was avoided, the Administration did announce a number of other changes that will have an big impact on carriers and shippers. Those include:

•   The maximum hours a driver can work per week was reduced by 12 to 70, by limiting drivers to one 34-hour restart per seven-day period.

•   Requires drivers who are maxing out their weekly work allowances to take at least two nights’ rest between 1 and 5 a.m. each week.

•   Requires drivers to take a half-hour break after driving for eight consecutive hours.

The FMSCA presented a table which nicely summarizes the changes, though in some cases you need to connect the dots to understand what the practical impact will be.

To read the FMSCA’s press release on the changes and see other details, please go the  FMSCA web site: Hours-of-Service (HOS) Final Rule (December 2011).

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said the new rules represented a “one-size-fits-all approach” that will do nothing to improve highway safety.

“Compliance with any regulation is already a challenge because everyone else in the supply chain is free to waste the driver’s time loading or unloading with no accountability,” said Spencer. “The hours-of-service regulations should instead be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when rested and not penalize them for doing so. It’s the only way to reach significant gains in highway safety and reduce non-compliance.”

The American Trucking Associations was also not happy with the changes.

“Today’s announcement of a new rule on the hours-of-service is completely unsurprising. What is surprising and new to us is that for the first time in the agency’s history, FMCSA has chosen to eschew a stream of positive safety data and cave in to a vocal anti-truck minority and issue a rule that will have no positive impact on safety,” ATA president and CEO Bill Graves said. “From the beginning of this process in October 2009, the agency set itself on a course to fix a rule that’s not only not broken, but by all objective accounts is working to improve highway safety.” Unfortunately, along the way, FMCSA twisted data and, as part of this final rule, is using unjustified causal estimates to justify unnecessary changes.”

As it has done throughout the process, the ATA release noted that truck-related fatalities have dropped 29.9% since the current rules went into effect in 2004, even while total truck miles has increased dramatically.

“By forcing through these changes FMCSA has created a situation that will ultimately please no one, with the likely exception of organized labor,” added Dan England, ATA chair and chair of C.R. England. “Both the trucking industry and consumers will suffer the impact of reduced productivity and higher costs. Also, groups that have historically been critical of the current hours of service rules won’t be happy since they will have once again failed to obtain an unjustified reduction in allowable daily driving time. Further, it is entirely possible that these changes may actually increase truck-involved crashes by forcing trucks to have more interaction with passenger vehicles and increasing the risk to all drivers.”

It is possible the ATA will challenge the rules in court, Graves said. There are also mechanisms by which Congress can void regulatory decisions, though the process is rarely used and seems unlikely in this case.

According to one industry veteran, “Had the DOT eliminated the eleventh hour, shippers and carriers would be looking at significantly higher costs and rates.”

But he added that “By shortening and adjusting the time period for the restart provision, the DOT appears to be playing King Solomon and deciding “how to split the baby.” When the initial rule was proposed, DOT retained the 34 hour restart period but they changed it to mandate that this period include two consecutive periods from 12 AM to 6 AM. Carriers and shippers (rightly) noted that this was a significant change and could actually hurt safety by forcing thousands of trucks on to the roads at the start of morning rush hour.”

The result is that the DOT “acknowledged that even though congestion impacts safety, they retained the two consecutive period requirement, although they did shorten it to 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. How much of a difference will this shortened window make? Candidly, we don’t know, and we don’t think the DOT knows either. So for now, truckers, get those trucks on the road at 5:00 a.m.”

The fact that there is such a long phase-in period indicates to many the FMSCA sees no real safety crisis – and also leave implementation of six months beyond when a new administration might take office in 2013 – which could potentially leave to a change in thinking before the rules are implemented.