Truck News


Voice of the O/O: Hours of Servitude

With all the recent debate surrounding hours of service regulations in Canada and the U.S., let's remind ourselves that the original purpose of these regulations was to make sure that commercial drive...

With all the recent debate surrounding hours of service regulations in Canada and the U.S., let’s remind ourselves that the original purpose of these regulations was to make sure that commercial drivers were well rested enough to safely perform their tasks.

Some truckers might feel that such laws are invasions of their privacy and right to make a living but these are other issues; the fact is, since we conduct business-for-profit on public highways, then the taxpayers have a right (and an obligation) to make sure that the citizens are protected from the consequences of fatigue-related collisions involving commercial trucks. We’re all aware of the many time-honoured methods of logbook evasion tactics so let’s just agree that for every trucker attempting to play by the rules there will always be some who operate as if the highway was their own private domain. Partly it’s the nature of the job; you’re out of the yard and on your own and there really isn’t anyone looking over your shoulder if you’re smart enough to figure out a way to keep your affairs a private matter. But that’s still not the crucial issue here.

The real question is why truck drivers, and in particular owner/operators, find it necessary to (occasionally? regularly?) “adjust” their logbooks. The short answer always seems to be that this is the only way that they can run enough miles to make a decent living.

Rather than deal with the root cause of the problem, which is that rates for owner/operators and wages for drivers aren’t sufficient to either address the amount of responsibility involved or reward the level of experience required to consistently achieve an extremely high level of performance, truckers find themselves forced to pile on ever more miles and hours so that somehow they will end up with a reasonable take-home income.

And because truckers have traditionally bought into the so-called realities of this career which assume that long hours away from home, many of them unpaid, are the normal way that business is done in this industry, then the trucking companies are only too happy to organize their operations and their dispatching so that the drivers pick up the loose ends and make it all work long after the front office suits have left for home.

Twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week utilization of personnel and equipment is considered to be the optimum in efficiency and, according to the carriers, this operational level, regardless of the human cost, is what keeps them viable and competitive. Evidently only then do their shareholders feel that they are getting the rate of return that their investment deserves.

Now, enter the logbook. This is the part where everyone pats themselves on the back for their commitment to safety: “We can now confidently assure the general public” they say “that the problem of fatigued drivers has been solved and there’s nothing more to worry about.” The regulations will ensure that drivers will be napping on command whether they’re tired or not and without any reference to an individual’s capacities or the circumstances in which he finds himself.

Up until now the well-documented research material suggested that a commercial driver could safely work for up to 15 hours (13 driving with two more on line four) before needing to rest for another eight.

Now we’re informed that the limit has been dropped back to 14 hours and all 14(!) can now be used to drive. Apparently this satisfies those who say that we need more “productivity” out of the drivers, “…so let’s have them keep pushing for another hour per day and then rest for 10 hours before resuming driving.” This will keep us on a 24 hour clock so that our precious circadian rhythms don’t interfere with delivery schedules.

Since when did an occupational group that operates in such close contact with the general public need to have its sleep patterns so heavily-debated and analyzed just to make sure that the wheels of modern commerce could turn smoothly? And why has this well-meaning research been turned on its head to the advantage of the carriers?

It turns out that some carriers are now insisting that drivers operate to the limits of endurance because the studies show that it can be done. To turn down work in this atmosphere is to severely limit both job opportunities and earning possibilities.

The implication here is that truckers aren’t worthy of a healthy financial profile based on a shorter workweek like the rest of the population.

Somehow our efforts aren’t deserving of all the off-duty perks which the average Joe or Jane assumes to be a part of a regular lifestyle.

Truckers have convinced themselves that extraordinary efforts for a far-too-small slice of the pie are the norm, so until they refuse to allow themselves to be bought off with so-called “Trucker Appreciation Days” and “Truck Driver Hero Awards,” the chances for normal healthy financially secure lives will remain severely compromised.

– A long time O/O, Mike Smith is a member of OBAC’s board-of-directors. He can be reached at

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