When the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published its final hours of service rules back in July, most everyone - on both sides of the border - had to be surprised by what they saw. I...
When the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published its final hours of service rules back in July, most everyone – on both sides of the border – had to be surprised by what they saw. In Canada, we had anticipated, and hoped, that the U.S. would move more towards a system like that proposed for Canada. And indeed they did, even going so far as to introduce a reset provision. (I’m told there was an audible gasp in the room in Washington when this was announced.)
The fact that the U.S. moved so appreciably towards the Canadian regime proves we were on the right track here. A couple of technical amendments and the Canadian proposals were ready to go.
However, there is one significant structural difference between the new U.S. rules and the proposed Canadian rules that needs to be addressed. At issue is the U.S. provision which will allow drivers operating a tractor with a sleeper berth to split off-duty time. Under the U.S. “sleeper berth exception” drivers will be allowed to split their off-duty time once per day in any combination totaling 10 hours with the minimum being two hours. (In Canada it is proposed that there must be at least one continuous off-duty period of eight hours with an additional two hours that can be split into increments of at least one half-hour).
The U.S. rules also limit the number of hours a driver may drive in the on-duty periods immediately before and immediately after a sleeper berth rest period to 11 hours per day.
The other differences between the Canadian proposals and the U.S. rules can be managed from an operational perspective. They may be different, but they are not so structurally different as to be incompatible. The same cannot be said of the difference that will arise if U.S. drivers have access to a sleeper berth provision and Canadian drivers do not.
U.S. drivers will have more flexibility to rest while waiting to be loaded/unloaded; to coordinate freight schedules. In Canada, any time off greater than two hours but less than eight, would cut into a driver’s productive time.
Drivers will be in a catch-22. If a driver avails himself of the U.S. sleeper berth exception in the U.S. – and most drivers certainly will – then he will automatically be illegal when he returns to Canada unless he has had eight hours continuous off-duty before crossing the border. It can be said that the same problems will confront U.S. drivers operating in Canada. But, can we realistically count on an enforcement effort to prevent U.S. drivers from taking less than eight hours off duty before entering Canada, or even splitting their time while in Canada? Can we realistically expect the U.S. DOT to enforce the Canadian hours of service rules when conducting facility audits on U.S. carriers with Canadian operations? Not a chance.
A competitive imbalance will be created and Canadian drivers and carriers will be forced to break the law or leave freight at the dock in the U.S. – neither of which is palatable or the way to start out with a new rule that will likely be in existence for at least 20 years.
The fact that the U.S. rules were published shortly after the end of the Gazette Part 1 comment period in Canada complicates things, but is no reason not to do the right thing and add a sleeper berth provision to the Canadian hours of service proposal. Safety will not be compromised. And Canada’s competitiveness in the critical transborder trucking market will not be needlessly impaired.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.