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HOS: Friend or foe?

By Wayne Bourne
April 01, 2010

Is it just me or have shippers become bored with the ongoing saga of the government’s attempts to re-regulate the rules governing the hours a driver can (safely) drive in a 24-hour period?

The shippers I’ve spoken to at industry events are tired of the “leap frog,” quasi-legislative attempts to solidify a rulemaking that’s nearing its 15th anniversary. It has been written, re-written, enacted, challenged, modified, and re-enacted over and over—and remains under study as we go to press.

While carriers wait for the proverbial other shoe to drop, it appears that shippers are taking a “sky is falling” approach. In other words, they’ve heard the safety mantra over and over, but without a final product having any permanency they’re simply ignoring the issue because they don’t believe it or trust the accuracy of the results. Instead, shippers think that this is a carrier issue and therefore a carrier problem.

Maybe I’m off-base in my observations, but it does seem all quiet on the shipper front on this issue. But, maybe it should be quiet. After all, this mess has been going on since 1995 when the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) was ordered by Congress to revise the decades old hours-of-service (HOS) rules.

The FHA failed to issue the required notice of rulemaking, so it fell to the newly created Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 1999 to do the job. Unfortunately, each and every change or proposed change has created operational confusion and productivity reductions within the carrier community—and eventually the shipper community.

I don’t think you can argue with the intent for modifying the rules. After all, who could argue with increasing safety on our highways? But, has any side come up with definitive proof that the new rules are indeed safer than any of the older rules?

I have seen and read interviews with carrier executives, industry leaders, and shipper groups in which they express their candid opinions. I wonder if anyone has sat down with a hundred or so drivers to get their take on the matter. How have these changes affected them? Do they feel more rested? Do they feel more alert? Are their skills sharper?

In fact, shippers should be asking their core carriers about the economic impact that new changes may create. They should also be questioning when and how much these costs will affect their newly acquired low rates. Distribution executives certainly want to consider what impact any new changes may have on the decisions they need to make on locating new DCs. What happens to your delivery schedule and transportation costs when the possible hours of driving operations are shortened?

In my most recent column (“Those who cannot learn from the past are doomed to repeat it” on
), I suggested that our newly minted logistics and transportation executives continue to study the science and politics of the field. The HOS situation is a perfect place to start.

Follow the impetus and the journey of the original HOS endeavor from 1995 when managed by the FHA through to the FMCSA’s most recent offering today. Look for and make a list of all that was to be accomplished by the modified rulemaking.

Then, determine whether or not it was appropriately addressed in the proposed and subsequently enacted rules. Determine what you feel the benefits were, each time with each change. Then decide who the winners and losers were. One life saved from a highway accident cannot be measured in an economic equation. However, among the stated players at least, who fared better: the shippers, the carriers, or the politicos? I’ve been in the game for a long time and I don’t have a convincing answer to that question.

This rulemaking is designed to improve the health, and subsequently the capability, of the driver; and yet no one has asked the drivers if they are feeling the love. We went from a 10-hour maximum with a forced break at no greater than eight consecutive hours, to a rule that although allows one extra hour of driving in a day, also allows those 11 hours to be driven consecutively with no mandatory break.

Does that produce a more rested, more alert driver? If a driver was considered too tired to drive more than eight hours consecutively, how does it make sense that he is better equipped and safer driving 11 consecutive hours?

I would sincerely like to hear from you about your concerns with the HOS rulemaking process. The actual proposals are available on line as well as the challenging petitions. Yes, they are woefully long and boring. Yes, they are lessons in double-speak. However, there is so much at stake here and you really do need to be on the front line. 

About the Author

Wayne Bourne

Wayne Bourne is founder and president of The Bourne Management Group, a consulting firm specializing in supply chain, logistics, and transportation network creation, economics, organizational development, and process analysis. A recipient of several industry awards, he has nearly three decades of experience in transportation and logistics management. Mr. Bourne may be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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