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Voice of the O/O: Now, That’s a Full Day’s Work

As of this writing the full impact of the revised American hours of service (HOS) regulations is yet to be felt. This highly anticipated change in the way commercial drivers record and report their da...



As of this writing the full impact of the revised American hours of service (HOS) regulations is yet to be felt. This highly anticipated change in the way commercial drivers record and report their daily work schedules may turn out to be even more revolutionary than first predicted.

The stated purpose of the regulations is to eliminate driver fatigue. This is of course a praiseworthy goal which all members of the trucking industry support. Achieving this goal, however, will require significant cooperation from shippers and receivers who will be reluctant to change their routines to satisfy outside contractors. Shippers and receivers will eventually find themselves at a considerable disadvantage as the implications of the new HOS rules begin to sink in. And this is a good thing. Carriers won’t need to demonstrate that their resources are finally stretched too far – the results will be obvious to everyone.

Under the new American rules (which we’ll discuss here since it affects the majority of cross-border Canadian truckers), a driver’s logbook clock starts ticking from the moment that the on-duty cycle begins. Generally speaking, drivers will have only 14 hours to complete a full day’s work. They will be allowed to drive 11 hours (up from the previous 10), but will have only three hours to deal with the non-driving duties on line four. Some of those duties, such as pre-trip inspections, unforeseen breakdowns and government weigh scale delays will unavoidably carve into the day. Unfortunately, so will meal breaks. Taking time out to stop for a meal will count against, not extend, the length of the workday, so look for more drivers skipping meals with all of the obvious health consequences.

For those drivers involved in LTL operations in the U.S., much of the 14-hour workday will be lost parked at loading docks. Even more time will be lost waiting for that one last skid or for bills of lading to be finished, time that cannot be recovered by extending the clock. This is where the safety element will be severely compromised. Drivers will be under such enormous pressure to complete loading and unloading within the 14-hour window that it won’t be a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ before there is an enormous wreck as a driver rushes from place to place attempting to make up for lost time. Look for increased insurance claims and thus increased premiums.

For many carriers this will mean a complete re-evaluation of what exactly is meant by “a good customer.” If a truck is held up unreasonably (and by unreasonable we mean anything that requires the driver to do more than back in, get instant service, sign the bills and be gone inside of 15 minutes) then carriers will have no choice but to either increase their rates to cover the loss or simply eliminate that customer. News will travel fairly quickly that a lack of responsiveness by certain customers to waiting truckers will no longer be tolerated.

Owner/operators will be the most directly affected by the changes. As sub-contractors they will be expected to absorb the inevitable inconveniences; one more nail in the coffin of their dubious profit picture. To avoid this, many will resort to hauling only truckload shipments which usually pay less but at least avoid the lost time involved in LTL situations. Even then most owner/operators will be reluctant to spend too much time live loading since they will be unable to book enough sleeper time to offset the imposed delay.

To avoid these situations shippers and receivers will have to agree to loading and unloading dropped trailers – thus reducing the driver’s task to a simple drop and hook. With luck this is how the future will look – but don’t count on it.

It’s been estimated that the loss of productive hours by the existing driver force will require an additional 15 per cent more trucks on the road just to keep up with current volumes, this at a time when the industry is already facing a massive driver shortage.

Look for increased pressure from carriers for higher weights and the expanded use of triples. And then look for massive resistance to cost-cutting measures from trucking’s traditional adversaries: the automobile and railroad interest groups.

In other news, the CCRA has announced that it is now recognizing that $33 a day for meal allowances is clearly insufficient. They have increased the limit to $45 a day without receipts (still with the 50 per cent deductibility limit).

We want to stress however that these are guidelines only and that “reasonableness” is the guiding principle here.

If you decide to retain receipts your chances of having a trouble-free audit are considerably better. In addition, OBAC is lobbying to restore the 80 per cent deductibility provision which U.S. drivers enjoy.

We maintain however that the most profitable arrangement is for owner-operators to incorporate and then pay themselves a suitable per diem rate to cover on-the-road meals. But we’ll go into more detail about this in another column.

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


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