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Unintended Consequences

Posted By John Hausladen, Sunday, September 1, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Unintended Consequences – During recent visits with members at their terminals, one message comes across loud and clear: the new hours-of-service (HOS) regulations are having some seriously negative unintended consequences. I say "unintended” because I can’t believe the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) really meant for truckers to increase average truck speeds, burn more fuel, increase equipment repair costs and increase driver stress. Yet, that is what is happening among some of our fleets.

Long Haul Hit Hardest – The impact seems most pronounced on carriers with a longer average length of haul. For these Minnesota-based carriers, destinations like California have become a much tougher run to make pay off. The combination of the 168-hour waiting time and two nighttime sleep periods (1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.) has created a double whammy.

Lots of Clocks = More Driver Stress – Members described the increased stress being felt among their drivers trying to balance the multiple "clocks” they now operate under. One member commented that, "We now have a 30-minute clock, four-hour clock, eight-hour clock, 10-hour clock, 11-hour clock, and 168-hour clock. That’s a lot of clocks for a driver to manage, and it just causes more stress.” Another member offered a counterpoint, saying that electronic logs eliminate much of that stress. Maybe less stress, but certainly not flexibility. More about that later.

Pleas for Exemptions – The FMCSA is considering a petition to exempt truck drivers hauling ready-mixed concrete from the new requirement that most drivers take a 30-minute break before driving more than eight hours. FMCSA said it received a petition from the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association for the two-year exemption, and it will accept public comments on the request until September 19. The NRMCA said ready-mixed concrete is a perishable product that becomes unusable after about 90 minutes of mixing.

Exemptions Already in Place – Drivers carrying certain explosives and radioactive material are exempt from the 30-minute break requirement. FMCSA granted short-term waivers to drivers carrying live animals or sensitive military cargo and is considering making them permanent exemptions. Following an August 2, 2013 federal court decision, short-haul drivers are also exempt.

Need for Driver Flexibility – Members are uniform in their call for increased driver flexibility. One member said, "It makes no sense for a driver to run out of hours 150 miles from home, and make him sleep in a truck stop. He would get far better rest in his own bed.”

Drivers, Drivers, Drivers – As big as HOS is to our members, driver availability ranks as their top concern in my informal poll. Many members believe the new HOS rules are just making it harder to find and keep drivers. The pressure is only going to intensify as the economy picks up.

HOS Debate Far From Over – While we agree with the goal of putting well rested drivers on the road, I have yet to find one member who says this current HOS rule really achieves that goal. It seems to me that we have just turned the page on a new chapter. With a congressionally mandated 34-hour restart study due, and a possible new American Trucking Associations research study regarding split sleeper berth impacts on rest, we have more opportunities to improve a faulty system.

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