Industry Issues: HOS Regulations – 16-Hour Working Window Doesn’t Add Up

by David Bradley

Should drivers be penalized for delays that they cannot control, or for taking more than the minimum prescribed rest under the proposed new Canadian hours of service regulations?

How many hours should drivers have safely at their disposal in order to get (if needed) the maximum of 13 hours driving in? These questions have emerged as the last major hurdle to be addressed before the proposals make their way through the final stages of the regulatory process.

As they presently stand, the proposed rules contain a limit of 16 hours on the amount of time that may elapse between the end of one principal eight-hour rest period and the beginning of the next.

This so-called 16-hour window means that if a driver works the maximum 14 hours allowable in a day, he has only two hours of off-duty time available for rest periods during delays en route – e.g. waiting to be loaded or unloaded – before he must reduce his driving time and therefore decrease his productivity and earning potential.

To avoid this CTA and the provincial associations have proposed a working window of 18 hours between principal rest periods.

Provided any delays beyond two hours can be booked as off-duty time, an 18-hour window should in most cases provide sufficient time for a driver to complete his driving and other tasks and also take quality rest periods during the day when he is not required to be on duty.

Key to our proposal is that an 18-hour window will provide for two hours additional rest, not two hours more work.

In the final analysis, this proposal would lead to a 26-hour “day” if a driver works and rests for the maximum allowable time.

The advocates of the 16-hour window say it is needed for two main reasons: (a) to prevent too long an interval between principal rest periods and thus somehow minimize fatigue risk and; (b) to “regularize” a driver’s day to 24 hours, i.e. a total of 14 hours driving and other work, two hours off-duty during the work shift, plus eight hours of continuous rest.

A standard 24-hour rotation is viewed by most regulators as being necessary to avoid the disruption of a driver’s circadian rhythms.

However, the 24-hour day concept is a fiction and the arguments advanced on fatigue and circadian disruption, reflect a misunderstanding of the science.

While a standardized 24-hour work/rest rotation for drivers might appear attainable under the proposed regulations, it will seldom materialize in the real world.

For example, if a driver decides to work 14 hours and take 11 hours off-duty, his “day” will be 25 hours.

This would be quite legal and no one in government has suggested that it would be unsafe or should be prevented.

Conversely, if a driver decides to drive and work for a total of only 13 hours and take 10 hours off duty his “day” would be 23 hours.

Again, there has been no suggestion that in this case the driver should extend his off-duty period to 11 hours so as to create a 24-hour day.

Obviously, any number of work-rest combinations can be created that will make the driver’s day more or less than 24 hours.

During the development of the new regulations there has been much talk of the need to take into account a driver’s circadian rhythm when determining work/rest limits. However, in the present situation, three fundamental misconceptions have given rise to some governments’ insistence on a 24-hour day and thus a 16-hour working window.

First, contrary to the view espoused by some regulators, the human body’s natural circadian cycle is not precisely 24 hours.

In fact it is probably closer to 25 hours, and an extension of the “day” as we have proposed is not likely to result in circadian disruptions and increased fatigue.

Second, fatigue is much more likely to result from a “phase advance,” where a driver starts work earlier each day on successive days.

Our proposal for an 18-hour window does the exact opposite, since a driver’s start time could be up to two hours later from one day to the next.

Third, the argument that any more than 16 hours between principal rest periods would lead to increased fatigue has no basis in science, provided sufficient downtime is available for what is described as “meaningful rest” between principal off-duty periods.

Our proposal for an additional two hours of off-duty time (providing a total of four hours off duty during the shift) would provide ample opportunity for a driver to minimize fatigue within the 18-hour window.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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