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Proposed changes to H-o-S regs are safe, flexible

In recent weeks, the federal Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations resumed its investigations into proposed changes to the federal Hours-of-Service regulations for trucks.Indeed th...


In recent weeks, the federal Standing Committee on Transport and Government Operations resumed its investigations into proposed changes to the federal Hours-of-Service regulations for trucks.

Indeed the committee may travel the country “to hear from Canadians” even though no regulation in my experience has been the subject of such review and analysis over so many years.

Nor, can I think of any regulation that has been the subject of so much misinformation as this one has.

Ironically, while these hearings are ongoing, proposed changes to the railway hours of service rules – including 18 hours a day/126 hours a week work shifts – are being formulated behind closed doors with virtually no public input. If the committee is going to take until the fall (as has been suggested) to submit its report, then perhaps it should be looking at the rules in the federal transportation sector overall – not just trucking. That might at least expose the lack of credibility of the rail-funded truck haters that are trying to harpoon the trucking changes developed by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) and reduce the earning potential of truck drivers.

What follows is a recap of the issues. I hope it fills in some of the blanks on the proposed changes and provides you with the information you need.

In general, Canadian drivers are still required to comply with regulations that have changed little since they were first drafted over a half-century ago. It is widely acknowledged that the existing rules miss the mark and may actually contribute to fatigue by encouraging work-rest cycles out of sync with the human body’s natural circadian rhythm, and by paying too little attention to the adequacy of off-duty time.

This clearer understanding stems in large part from the landmark Canada-U.S. Driver Fatigue and Alertness Study – a seven-year collaborative effort involving the federal governments, motor carriers, drivers and trucking associations of both countries. In 1997, following completion of the study, the CCMTA began a process of reform. The outcome is a consensus proposal recommending a number of more effective and flexible standards.

The regulations go to the very heart of motor carrier operations and the lifestyle of professional drivers. Indeed, much of the industry’s infrastructure, from the location of terminals to the types of vehicles operated, as well as the establishment of truck transportation routes, has developed over many years largely on the basis of trip lengths allowed under the regulated hours of service limits. The following guiding principles are essential to positive change:

Be consistent with scientific principles relating to fatigue, rest and recovery;

Provide drivers with better opportunities to obtain adequate rest;

Facilitate fatigue management by promoting work-rest schedules that will better enable drivers to drive when they are alert, and rest when they are tired;

Take into account driver concerns over extended off-duty periods away from home;

Provide the industry with an appropriate level of operational flexibility;

Accommodate the industry’s complexity and sectoral differences;

Be easier to comply with and enforce, by being less complex and based on common sense;

Not put Canadian carriers at a disadvantage relative to U.S. competition and other modes of land transportation.

In my view, the CCMTA proposal appropriately reflects these guiding principles. Dr. Ronald Heslegrave – Chair of the Research Ethics Board at the University of Toronto Health Network, Director of the Program on Human Performance and Function at the Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology, and a member of Transport Canada’s expert panel – states, “The proposed Hours-of-Service standard is a good attempt to strike the appropriate balance between societal and economic demands, and the risk associated with meeting those demands.”

The main elements of the CCMTA proposal are as follows:

Daily Work-Rest Cycle and the Human Body Clock: the current regulations permit a 15-hour work shift (with a 13-hour driving limit), followed by an eight-hour off-duty period before the cycle begins again. Thus, in those cases where a driver works the maximum number of hours allowed by the regulations, his “day” is actually 23 hours long. However, the human body clock functions on a natural, or circadian, cycle of about 24 hours. The 23-hour work-rest rotation leads to a phenomenon known as phase advance, whereby the driver would begin work one hour earlier each day. Numerous research studies have shown that this type of schedule is likely to result in cumulative fatigue.

The CCMTA proposal limits a driver to 14 hours on duty and requiring 10 hours off-duty per day, at least eight of which must be consecutive. The driver’s circadian rhythm will be restored before the onset of cumulative fatigue.

Daily Rest Opportunity: the CCMTA proposal requires an average 10 hours off duty per day. Research has shown that the human body needs between seven and eight hours sleep per day to maintain adequate levels of alertness. Clearly, given other demands on a driver’s time during his off-duty periods – such as commuting, leisure activities and hygiene – eight hours off duty will not generally permit adequate daily sleep. And, since the 10-hour off-duty period will better allow for sufficient daily rest, cumulative fatigue will be minimized over a duty cycle of several days.

Daily On-Duty Time: the two-hour daily increase in off-duty time will mean that average time on duty will be reduced to 14 hours from the total of 16 hours per day allowed by the current regulations (15-hours, plus the first hour of the next shift after eight hours off-duty. And, by virtue of a recent agreement between Teamsters and CTA, we would recommend that the 14 hour on-duty time be limited to no more than 13 hours a shift – the current maximum.

48-Hour Averaging: The CCMTA proposal allows for both on-duty and off-duty time to be averaged over 48 hours. Within a 48-hour period, a driver would be required to be off duty for a minimum of 20 hours. This would consist of one block of at least eight consecutive hours off duty in each 24-hour period. If a driver uses the averaging method to defer up to two off-duty hours to the following day, these hours would need to be added to the next principal off-duty period.

The balance needed to total 20 hours off duty within the 48-hour period could be made up in any combination of half-hour blocks. The 20-hour off-duty requirement would mean that a driver would not be able to work more than 28 hours in any 48-hour period. One of North America’s foremost sleep scientists and a member of the U.S. expert panel on hours of service, Colonel Greg Belenky, M.D. of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Bethesda, has stated he “particularly liked the ’48-hour averaging’ as from our work we find this is how commercial drivers operate; they may short-change themselves of sleep on one day, but almost invariably make it up on the next.”

Rest and Recovery Periods: for the 70/7 cycle, the CCMTA proposal allows a driver to reset his cumulative time on duty to zero after a rest and recovery period of 36 hours, taken at the driver’s option at any time during the cycle. A rest period of 36 hours between cycles provides sufficient off-duty time for two principal sleep periods, which would enable a driver to obtain as much recuperative rest as he needs. It also makes a driver available for duty on the next cycle without a phase shift – he would be ready for duty at about the same time of day that he started work during the previous cycle. The report of a 1998 international conference of transport fatigue experts concluded that two nighttime sleeps are needed to recover from acute and cumulative fatigue. The CCMTA proposal gives drivers an average of 25 per cent more sleep opportunity on a daily basis and provides the flexibility to take longer sleeps and naps under the averaging approach. Cumulative fatigue during a duty cycle will be minimized.

120 Hours in 14 Days Cycle: The CCMTA proposal
includes a second duty cycle of 120 hours in 14 days, with a 24-hour off-duty period commencing between the 50th and 70th hours. This is an improvement over the existing 120/14 cycle, which allows 75 hours to be accumulated before 24 hours must be taken off duty. The 120/14 cycle must be retained to allow certain long-haul operators the ability to operate without using team drivers in a sleeper berth operation.

Cycle Switching: The existing regulations permit a driver to switch between the three duty cycles (60/7, 70/8 and 120/14) without taking time off before beginning a new cycle. This can result in the accumulation of 108 hours in a seven-day period.

The CCMTA proposal eliminates this situation, by requiring that a driver take at least 36 hours to rest before switching from the 70/7 cycle, and at least 72 hours in the case of the 120/14 cycle.

It is difficult for working drivers and other industry people to participate in the public hearings, there are ways to make your views known. You can, for example, call or write your Member of Parliament or the standing committee directly.

Think about it.

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

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