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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation has unveiled plans to radically change hours of service regulations applied to truckers.

While the rules are all based on a 24-hour cycle, specific approaches vary, depending on the type of driving that you do. There is even a requirement in the proposal that long-haul and regional drivers use Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) to track hours of service.

U.S. DOT Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater announced the long-awaited proposal as Truck News was heading to press. And while the proposed changes would have an immediate impact on working conditions for truck and bus drivers, they also have the potential to fundamentally alter operational procedures in the trucking industry and influence the North American economy itself.

Existing rules date back to a 1937 Interstate Commerce Commission regulation, and saw their last major change in 1962.

The changes, according to Slater, are designed to “ensure that big rig operators and other truck and bus drivers have sufficient rest so that they can drive safely – it will help prevent fatigue-related crashes and thus save lives and prevent injuries.”

At the core of the proposal is a shift from the current 18-hour cycle (10 hours driving with eight hours off) to a 24-hour clock. For long-haul and regional truckers, the new regime calls for no more than 12 hours on-duty time. Of the 12 hours off-duty, 10 hours must be taken consecutively, while the remaining two hours can be broken up into no less than half-hour segments. But different types of driving will require different sets of rules (see sidebar).

Drivers will also need to take at least 58 consecutive hours of off-duty time every week, incorporating two midnight-to-6 a.m. periods. Long-haul and regional drivers will also have the option of a two-week schedule that includes one 32-hour “weekend” (two consecutive overnight periods), then 48 hours behind the wheel over the next four days, before another 82 hours of consecutive off-duty time that includes two consecutive midnight-to-6 a.m. periods. Another option would allow for a maximum of 18 hours behind the wheel every week, between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., when natural body clocks are more prone to fatigue.

The general public has 90 days to comment on the Notice of Proposed Rule Making. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be conducting consultation sessions around the country in the coming months to gather feedback on the proposal from the public.

In support of the proposal, Slater points to research conducted by the FMCSA that suggests that the proposed shift to a 24-hour cycle would prevent approximately 2,600 crashes, 115 fatalities and 2,995 serious injuries annually. The FMCSA arrived at those numbers after reviewing more than 150 research studies from around the world.

What hasn’t been addressed is whether truckers will have the ability to change categories if the nature of their work changes in the midst of a driving cycle.

“It seems the proposed rules are considerably more complex than what’s being discussed in Canada,” said Canadian Trucking Alliance CEO David Bradley. “Our existing regimes are different but compatible. There are a lot of wrinkles in here.”

The alliance continues to study the 270-page document that contains the proposal.

The U.S. DOT proposal is sure to get plenty of attention throughout Canada, where government regulators and industry stakeholders havefor several years been haggling over our hours of service issue. Currently, Canadian regulations utilize a clock with 13 hours on duty and eight hours off, and jurisdictions such as Saskatchewan and Alberta don’t cap hours for moves within their respective provinces.

A recent Transport Canada discussion paper also called for a switch to a 24-hour clock, saying it “eases stress on the internal body clock” because drivers’ sleep times are more consistent.

The proposed Canadian version of the rules, unveiled late last year, is being drafted into a legal framework, confirms Transport Canada’s Derek Sweet. But the U.S. announcement “is just a proposal”, he adds. “Where they end up finally is a matter of conjecture.”

The fact that the U.S seems to be going to a 12-on-12-off system is welcome, Sweet adds. “We are trying to harmonize as close as possible … both countries have been aware of what the other has been doing. But each country has to ultimately do its own thing.”

A final vote on Canadian rules by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators is expected in December.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance put forward a proposal last year that would average hours of service over a 48-hour period. Under that proposal, two hours of rest time from the first day could be pushed over to the second 24-hour time frame, allowing more flexibility for personal work habits. The system is also better suited to Canada’s wide-open geography, the CTA argues, where truckstops are often much farther apart than in the U.S.

But perhaps the most controversial element of the U.S. DOT proposal is the requirement that would see electronic recorders installed in long-haul and regional trucks to keep track of hours of service – something opposed by such groups as the American Trucking Associations. Under the proposed regulations, the “black boxes” would be phased in, depending on the size of the fleet. Larger companies operating more than 50 power units would have two years to comply. Carriers operating between 20 and 50 units would have three years, while those with fewer than 20 power units would have four years. The U.S. DOT is proposing tougher standards for long-haul and regional drivers because of their high level of fatigue-related crashes.

“If safety is a motivating factor, I find it surprising the big guys have to do it first,” muses Bradley.

Immediate reaction to the U.S. DOT proposal among drivers in the U.S. will be indifferent, according to Charlie Hentz, president of the New Jersey-based National Owner/ Operators Trucking Association. A veteran trucker himself and one of the driving forces behind recent Capitol Hill protests over fuel prices, Hentz says the new regulations are simply going to force drivers to find new ways to cheat.

“Drivers cheat on their log books now, so what difference are more regulations going to make?” Hentz asks. “And why do drivers cheat? Because they have to make a living.”

“If we really want safety to be a priority, we have to start paying guys to sleep, paying them to wait for loads, paying them for empty miles. Regulations aren’t the answer; paying people a decent wage is.” n

Five approaches to hours of work

Type 1 (Long-haul) drivers who operate two or more off-duty periods away from their normal work reporting location must have at least 10 consecutive hours off duty in each 24-hour period. They must also have two hours off-duty during the work shift.

Type 2 (Regional) drivers who operate only one off-duty period away from their normal work reporting location must have at least 10 consecutive hours off duty in each 24-hour period. They must also have two hours off duty during the work shift.

Type 3 (Local- split shift) drivers who operate within six hours driving distance of their work reporting location and return to that location at the end of the shift must have at least nine consecutive hours off duty during the 24-hour period, with an additional three consecutive hours off duty at some other point during the same 24-hour period.

Type 4 (Local) drivers who operate within six hours’ driving distance of their work reporting location and return to that work reporting location at the end of each shift must have at least 12 consecutive hours off duty in each 24-hour period.

Type 5 (Primary work not driving) drivers whose primary duties for the motor carrier are duties other than driving, and who report for work and are released from work at the same normal work reporting location, must have at least nine consec
utive hours off duty in each 24-hour period. n

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Truck News is Canada's leading trucking newspaper - news and information for trucking companies, owner/operators, truck drivers and logistics professionals working in the Canadian trucking industry.

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