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what a nightmare

Having followed the debate over the U.S. government's attempts to revise its antiquated hours of work rules, I'm not sure which is worse: the government's ridiculously confusing proposals or the U.S. ...

Having followed the debate over the U.S. government’s attempts to revise its antiquated hours of work rules, I’m not sure which is worse: the government’s ridiculously confusing proposals or the U.S. trucking industry’s vitriolic “our way or no way” approach to debating.

Of course, with more than 42 per cent of for-hire carrier revenues coming from transborder hauls, Canadian carriers have a large stake in this debate.

The existing U.S. rules date back to 1937 and have not been changed in a major way since 1962. They require drivers to work on an 18-hour cycle (10 hours at the wheel and eight hours off). Similar to the current Canadian 23-hour cycle, such rules fight the body’s natural circadian rhythms, which are based on a 24-hour day. U.S. Transportation Secretaru Rodney Slater should be given credit for wanting to change that major flaw. His proposal to move to a 24-hour cycle is consistent with what scientific research shows is best. (And it’s in line with our new hours of service proposals.) Slater’s rulemaking also calls for no more than 12 hours of on-duty time and 12 hours off-duty time. Some U.S. carriers may not like it, but Slater should also be given credit for increasing the prescribed amount of rest drivers must take each day.

Based on those two recommendations, the American Trucking Associations’ claim that Slater’s proposals “do nothing to advance highway safety” is far too heavy handed and shows the organization is more interested in picking a fight than in working towards a solution.

Having said that, Slater is certainly not completely undeserving of the trucking industry’s ire: In their totality his proposals are too complicated to be workable in real-world situations. Consider: his proposals call for drivers to take at least 58 consecutive hours of off-duty time every week, including at least 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 short and one long “weekend.” For the short weekend, drivers must have 32 consecutive hours of off-duty time, including two consecutive midnight to 6 a.m. periods. Following that they can drive for 48 hours over the next four days but then must have a long weekend of 82 consecutive hours off-duty, including two consecutive midnight to 6 a.m. periods, before reporting to work. Yet another option would allow for a maximum of 18 hours behind the wheel every week between midnight and 6 a.m.

As if trying to keep all that straight is not enough to actually induce insomnia, Slater also wants to segregate drivers into five different categories – long-haul, regional, local split-shift, local regular shift, and workers for whom driving is not a primary part of their occupation — each with its own rules.

The American Trucking Associations is fuming over Slater’s additional proposal for electronic recorders to keep track of hours of service but perhaps it’s no more than an unconscious admission that the rules are too complicated for the human mind.

So far the most common-sense comment I’ve heard came from Charlie Hentz, president of the New Jersey-based National Owner/ Operators Trucking Association. Hentz believes the new regulations are simply going to force drivers to find new ways to cheat.

“Why do drivers cheat? Because they have to make a living,” Hentz says. “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.”

Unfortunately, I doubt either the American Trucking Associations or the U.S. Department of Transportation has the intestinal fortitude to wade into that debate.

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