WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Proposed changes to the US hours-of-service rules announced Dec. 23 may have been less drastic than many in the industry had feared, but they still met with much criticism.
The rules, which may - or may not - reduce driving time to 10 hours per day (the FMCSA expressed its preference for the reduction, but said it would first consult with the public), add stipulations to the 34-hour restart and allow extensions to the 14-hour workday in some situations, sparked mixed reaction. But the American Trucking Associations (ATA), which had been sounding warnings of a potential loss of driving time, reacted strongly to the announcement.
"When viewed against trucking's sterling safety record," said ATA president Bill Graves, "it's plain that the Obama Administration's willingness to break something that's not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health."
Highway safety records would seem to bear truth to that contention. Since the current hours-of-service rules were introduced in 2004, the trucking industry in the US has seen crash-related fatalities decline 33% from 2003 levels while both fatality and injury crash rates have reached historic lows.
Graves said the proposed rules will do nothing to improve highway safety, and are "overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, would substantially reduce trucking's productivity."
The ATA warned the proposed changes "will be enormously expensive for trucking and the economy." The association pointed out the FMCSA itself estimated, just two years ago, costs of over $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by one hour and the restart provision was significantly changed. ATA also contended that just two years ago, FMCSA concluded that "eliminating the eleventh hour is unlikely to be cost effective under any reasonable set of circumstances."
"This proposal includes even more restrictions than what FMCSA previously considered," said Graves.
While the ATA is naturally opposed to the reduction in daily allowable driving time, it also takes issue with the fact the new rules would reduce maximum daily working time by an hour (drivers will have to complete all work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for a one-hour break) and would revise the 34-hour restart, requiring two consecutive off-duty periods from midnight to 6 a.m.
In a strongly worded news release, the ATA accused the FMCSA of contradicting itself.
"Especially troubling is this Administration's disregard for the negative safety impacts the proposed changes would have - impacts expressly recognized by FMCSA in the past," the ATA said. "For example, FMCSA previously found that the eleventh hour of driving time does not increase driver weekly hours; is used for flexibility purposes; does not increase driver-fatigue risks; and that eliminating it would promote more aggressive driving (to meet time constraints) and lead to placing tens of thousands of less experienced drivers on the road who would pose greater crash risks. With respect to the 34-hour restart, FMCSA has correctly found in the past that requiring two nights of sleep would disrupt drivers' circadian cycle and add to more daytime driving in congested periods, again increasing crashes. FMCSA's reversal on these crucial matters is hard to explain in other than political terms."
The ATA officially unveiled a Web site it had prepared to counter some of the arguments against the current HoS at www.SafeDriverHours.com.
In Canada, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), said the rules were "not as bad as thought." As far as the prospect of a 10-hour driving day is concerned, CTA chief David Bradley said "The science of fatigue suggests that it is not the amount of time a person works or drives that is the determinative factor for driver fatigue - it's whether the driver is getting the appropriate opportunity for rest, and then uses those opportunities effectively."
Bradley was pleased to see the reset provision remain, in some form, and was seemingly less apocalyptic about the proposed revisions than his American counterparts.
"Clearly, the FMCSA wants to try and ensure that a driver gets two consecutive night-time sleeps before he or she can reset their clock," he reasoned. "That may create some logistical complexities; we'll have to take a closer look."
Bradley also noted that shippers will need to understand and appreciate the fact all work-related duties will have to be completed within 13 hours.
"We have fixed working windows now," says Bradley. "They are difficult to manage and can put added pressures on drivers to drive when they might otherwise rest to make sure they get their work done. Shippers and consignees are going to have to pay much more attention to this to avoid delays for loading/unloading."
He commended the FMCSA for introducing an option to extend a driver's daily shift from 14 hours to 16 twice a week when issues such as loading/unloading delays occur.
"Clearly, FMCSA is sensitive to the fact that drivers can be delayed for reasons beyond their control and are attempting to address it," he said.
Bradley said he has received no indication from regulators that Canada would move to match the new US rules.
"Things could change, but I just don't sense that the provinces or Transport Canada want to open that can of worms again - at least not right now," he said.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) did not rush to judge the proposed changes.
"We have been anxiously awaiting the public release of the proposed new rules," said OOIDA executive vice-president Todd Spencer. "We are carefully analyzing the proposal, but I can tell you that to make additional safety gains, the next hours-of-service rule must be more flexible to allow drivers to sleep when tired and to work when rested. The rules must encourage truck drivers to get off the road when they are tired and must not penalize them for doing so."
OOIDA took the opportunity to espouse that hours-of-service regulations are not the be all and end all when it comes to truck safety on the highways.
"We want the motoring public to know that it's not just about how long a truck driver spends behind the wheel that affects the safety of everyone on the highways," said Spencer. "Many truck drivers spend between 30-40 hours per week waiting at loading docks. Everyone involved in transportation, from shippers to receivers, has a responsibility for its role in keeping highways safe. And we won't have optimum safety until others in the supply chain truly act responsibly."
The FMCSA has posted it proposed rules online at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hos.
If the rules are put into place, violations will result in penalties of up to US$2,750 for each offense. Carriers that allow drivers to violate the rules will face fines of up to US$11,000 for each offense. Beginning Dec. 29, public comments will be accepted via the FMCSA Web site.