Trucking Regulations: Hours-of-Service Battle Not Over Yet
Controversy over new hours-of-service rules for the trucking industry was hot and prolonged prior to passage of new regulations last summer. Now, drivers and fleet managers are saying “we told you so.”
While the new HOS requirements have had little affect on most drivers – those working locally or hauling LTL runs — their effects on long-haul drivers and fleet operations has already been significant and costly. A recent study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) indicates almost 70% of truckers are earning less income. More than 80% say their lives overall have been negatively affected.
The new rules, which went into effect July 1, 2013, have three major provisions. They:
- Set a maximum average work week of 70 hours for truck drivers.
- Enable drivers to exceed the 70-hour maximum to continue driving – if they take a break of 34 consecutive hours that includes two periods from 1am to 5am. However, drivers can use this provision only once in 7-day (168 hours) week.
- Mandate a full 30-minute break within the first eight shift hours.
Potential fines for non-compliance are stiff for trucking companies and passenger carriers — $11,000 per offense if drivers exceed the limits by more than three hours. Drivers themselves could face civil penalties as high as $2,750 per offense.
It’s the 34-hour “restart” that’s causing heartburn for truckers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) devised the new regulations as a way to reduce driver fatigue, projecting the changes would prevent about 1400 accidents, in turn preventing 560 reducing injuries and saving 19 lives each year. But 66% of the ATRI survey respondents said they actually feel more tired working under the new constraints. Another study conducted by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) shows 46% of drivers feel more tired now.
Drivers complain the new regulations have taken common sense and flexibility out of their hands, eliminating their ability to account for unpredictable situations such as bad weather or traffic congestion that delay them.
Fleet managers are scrambling to re-arrange schedules. Whereas nighttime hours have always been considered prime time for deliveries because traffic is lighter and it’s more convenient for customers, dispatchers and clients are now having to reconsider their options. Trucking companies fear they may not be able to meet customer demand for after-hours and weekend work.
One industry analyst predicts productivity will drop by 14% for drivers and carriers who are typically on the road for two or three weeks at a time.
Fewer drivers, less experience.
Some veteran drivers are so fed up, they’re simply leaving the industry. That exacerbates the already-worrisome issue of driver shortage. Meanwhile, fleet managers say they’ll have to add drivers to cover the hours their existing personnel can no longer work. That number could be as high as 60,000 new drivers just in the next year or two. Many in the industry say the lack of new-driver training and on-the-road experience poses significant concerns about highway safety for all motorists.
Working on repeal.
The FMCSA predicted regulatory changes would benefit the trucking industry to the tune of $133 million annually. But ATRI disagrees vehemently, predicting the restart changes will eventually cost the industry as much as $376 million. It’s still too early to tell what the long-term impact will be in terms of safety and costs. And although Congress mandated the FMCSA to conduct a field study of the 34-hour restart provision, detractors aren’t waiting.
In October, HR 3413 was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives. Nicknamed the TRUE Act, it would reinstate the 34-hour restart rules that were in effect prior to July 1, 2013, and it would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate how FMCSA arrived at the new rules.