Chain of Thought

New Hours of Service Rules Settle Nothing, Satisfy Nobody

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In a compromise decision that nobody seems to be happy about, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced its revised hours of service rules for commercial truck drivers. In a move that illustrates how little attention the FMCSA wanted from its ruling, the announcement was made just prior to the long Christmas holiday break, when most offices were scheduled to be closed.

It's difficult to imagine how the FMCSA could have managed to satisfy nobody, but that looks to be exactly what's happened. The new rule reduces the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work from 82 hours within a seven-day period to 70 hours. By removing 12 hours from the work week, the FMCSA angered many of the shipping organizations, who are complaining that the rules will effectively force more trucks on the road during the busiest hours of the day. On the other hand, the final rule retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit, which has safety groups upset because for them reducing the 11-hour limit down to 10 was a must-have stipulation.

Daphne Izer, co-founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), doesn't mince words when expressing her disapproval of the new rules. “I am beyond disappointed that once again industry profits were put before the safety of the motoring public and truck drivers. I don't know what it is going to take for the government to get real about protecting us on our roads.”

John Cutler, legal counsel for NASSTRAC, an industry association that represents the interests of freight shippers in all modes of transportation, disputes any suggestion that shippers will be seeing any positive gain from the new rules; quite the opposite, he says. “FMCSA's new rules will adversely impact productivity for trucking companies and their shipper customers for little or no safety benefit,” Cutler says.

Small truckers aren't happy with the changes, either. “Collectively, the changes in this rule will have a dramatic effect on the lives and livelihoods of small-business truckers. The changes are unnecessary and unwelcome and will result in no significant safety gains,” says Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).

“By forcing through these changes FMCSA has created a situation that will ultimately please no one, with the likely exception of organized labor,” adds Dan England, chairman of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) as well as trucking company C.R. England.

But not even the Teamsters seem to be particularly pleased with the new rules. James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, basically had nothing to say about the rule changes, other than to acknowledge their existence. “We are reviewing the new rule, and in the coming weeks we will meet and discuss it with our allies and, if necessary, determine our next course of action.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement from one of the Obama Administration's most vocal allies.

England sums up the situation thusly: “Both the trucking industry and consumers will suffer the impact of reduced productivity and higher costs,” he claims. “Also, groups that have historically been critical of the current hours of service rules won't be happy since they will have once again failed to obtain an unjustified reduction in allowable daily driving time. Further, it is entirely possible that these changes may actually increase truck-involved crashes by forcing trucks to have more interaction with passenger vehicles and increasing the risk to all drivers.”

According to the FMCSA, the new rule will require truck drivers to take at least two nights' rest between the hours of 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m, as part of the 34-hour restart provision. But as Cutler points out, “The effect is that down time due to restarts will increase significantly, and many drivers will start driving on Monday mornings, forcing thousands of trucks onto our roadways in rush hour and dramatically increasing traffic congestion.” Drivers can only use the restart provision once during a seven-day period.

So does anybody have anything good to say about the new rules? “If there is a positive in this rule, it is the lengthy period of time before it becomes effective,” says Bill Graves, president and CEO of the ATA, pointing to the compliance date of July 1, 2013, set by the FMCSA. This 18-month delay, Graves says, will give ATA time to consider legal options. And, by delaying implementation of this rule, the agency is acknowledging there is no safety crisis on our highways.”

And by July 2013, there could very well be a new Administration in the White House, and presumably, new leadership at the FMCSA. And that could very well lead to even more changes in the hours of service rules.

Related Articles:

Retailers: Hours of Service Decision a Mixed Blessing

Hours of Service Debate Goes into Overtime

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