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Changes are coming and they won’t be in your favour

By putting off writing this column as long as I possibly could, I was hoping the US FMCSA would have by now published its proposed changes to the US hours-of-service rules. However, the Dec. 6 edition...




By putting off writing this column as long as I possibly could, I was hoping the US FMCSA would have by now published its proposed changes to the US hours-of-service rules. However, the Dec. 6 edition of the Federal Register contained no such information. Truck News has not missed a printing deadline in its 30-year history, and it’s not going to happen on my watch, so I’ll have to address the issue without knowing exactly what the proposed rules will be.

One thing is for certain: they will not be favourable to the US trucking industry, nor to Canadian fleets that operate there. The breadth of the changes is the only thing that remains unknown, but it’s widely expected the proposals will call for a reduction in daily driving time by one or two hours and a lengthening of the mandatory 34-hour reset period.

This is a big deal. At the Commercial Vehicle Outlook Conference in August, American Trucking Associations (ATA) chairman Tommy Hodges said “The hours-of-service rewrite is a political football and it will have nothing to do with good science. It’s a political football that is going to get passed over our heads. There’s a good possibility we will lose one to two hours of driving time and there’s a strong possibility we’ll lose the 34-hour restart.”

He went on to say losing two hours of driving time per day would reduce truck productivity by 18-19%. What’s worse, it comes at a time when emissions-driven changes to engine technology is driving up costs of new trucks by about $10,000.

As Jim O’Neal, president of O&S Trucking so eloquently said at the same conference, “When you see productivity decline and you see inflation rise, you can head for the hills.”

And there are other repercussions as well. A reduction in daily driving time would redefine the term ‘day trip.’ The average length of haul is shortening, but a 600-mile haul will no longer be feasible in one day if driving time is reduced. And what about long-haul? Will any fleet be able to afford having its truck parked at the truck stop for more than 12 hours a day?

In North America, professional drivers are the Sherpas of commerce. They do the heavy lifting while everyone else -trucking company owners, shippers and consumers -benefit.

And now we’re going to limit their productivity and the hours they can work beyond the existing framework, which incidentally was in place while the US trucking industry reduced its crash-related injuries and fatalities to historic lows?

Consider these stats, circulated by the American Trucking Associations via a white paper on hours-of-service that was written in advance of the release of the new proposal: “The industry’s safety performance while operating under the current HOS rules since January 2004 is remarkable. Tr u c k-i nvo l v e d highway crash fatal it ies in 20 09 were down 33% from the 2003 level and are at their lowest level since USDOT began keeping records in 1975. Crash-related injuries have also dropped dramatically since 2003, and the fatality, injury and property-damage-only crash rates for large trucks (crashes per 100 million miles travelled) are at their lowest point since the USDOT began keeping records three decades ago.”

So tell me again, why do the rules need to be changed in the first place?

-James Menzies can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6896 or by e-mail at jmenzies@trucknews.com.

You can also follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/JamesMenzies.


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