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Proposed HOS rule changes (still) coming up short with trucking industry

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
November 17, 2011

To say that there is a lack of “love” for the proposed trucking Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules changes put forth by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is an understatement. In fact, it may very well be the understatement of the year in freight transportation and logistics circles.

For a quick review, let’s take a quick look at what FMCSA proposed in December 2010:

  • lowering the maximum time on-duty within the driving window from 14 hours per day to 13 hours per day;

  • for the driving window, the standard driving window would remain at 14 consecutive hours and 16 hours no more than twice per week, with release from duty required at the end of the driving window regardless of length;

  • reducing the legal daily driving time from 11 hours to 10 hours although both 10 and 11 hours are both being considered;

  • under the current rules there is no limit on consecutive hours of driving, but the new rules would require a minimum 30-minute break after a maximum of 7 hours driving or working in order for a driver to continue driving; and

  • maintaining the 34-hour restart as part of the 60-to-70 hour weekly on-duty limit but the restart must include two periods between midnight and 6 a.m. and it may only be used once a week.

As LM has oft-repeated, if these proposals become law, many industry stakeholders contend that they collectively will reduce the amount of time carriers have to move freight and hinder available trucking capacity.

What’s more, myriad shippers, carriers, 3PLs and other industry stakeholders have not held back when asked to state what they don’t like about these proposed changes. To be honest, I would run out of ink (or Web space, I guess) if I were to list the many qualms echoed by these parties when it comes to these proposed changes.

Just this week, I was at TransComp in Atlanta, where I could not find a single person to admit he or she even slightly supported these proposed rule changes. A few weeks before, I was at CSCMP in Philadelphia and I heard more of the same.

Here is some insight I got from Don Ostertag, vice president, safety and security at Schneider National, while at CSCMP, whom bluntly stated it will not be possible to maintain historical levels of service in the trucking sector should these rules come to fruition.

“My belief is that the FMCSA will not officially eliminate the 11th hour of driving, but it will be done in a de facto way by reducing maximum time on-duty within the driving window from 14 hours per day to 13 hours per day,” he said. “It is nearly impossible today drive 11 hours within a 14-hour window, and it will become virtually impossible if the workday is restricted to 13 hours.”

I know LM has given extensive coverage to HOS, but I felt compelled to blog about it today in light of a statement the American Trucking Associations put out earlier this week.

Here is a quote in the statement from ATA President and CEO Bill Graves, which discusses a new FMCSA report on highway safety:

“Based on the latest report from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatal crashes involving a large truck have fallen 31% from 2007 to 2009 and crashes resulting in injury have fallen 30%,” Graves said following a review of FMCSA’s 2009 Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts, recently posted on FMCSA’s website.

And here is a little more:
“[T]he report says the large truck fatal crash rate fell to 1.0 crashes per 100 million miles in 2009 from 1.1 crashes per 100 million miles traveled in 2008. Since 2000, the fatal crash rate for large trucks has fallen 54.5% - more than twice as much as the passenger vehicle fatal crash rate, which dropped just 25% - in the same time period.”

Isn’t it interesting that the current HOS rules in effect did not have an adverse impact on safety? More than a few people have pointed that out to us since these proposed HOS changes first came out nearly a year ago.  And it is not as if safety is something that is taken lightly by motor carriers—or providers of other modal services. It is, has been and will always be paramount to them—no question about it.

ATA head Graves drove this point home in a letter sent this week to Cass Sunstein, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget.

Graves penned the question to Sunstein as to if there is a “legitimate reason” to change these current HOS rules, which, as he and others have pointed out, are working. He also brought up the above-mentioned FMCSA data and also wrote this:

“This data, in terms of both numbers and rates, is overwhelmingly positive, is a clear indication how well trucking is performing while operating under the current HOS rules, and further demonstrates FMCSA has no evidence of a safety problem with the current rules.”

But here’s the rub. Regardless of what the final decision turns out to be, someone will be mad and someone will be happy, and, rest assured, legal action in one form or another, will follow.  If the rules stay the same, out will come the safety groups like Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway Safety, unions and other related groups.

And, of course, if the rules do indeed change, I think we can all agree that the ATA will lawyer up, with an entire industry having its back.

As is often the case with legislative inside baseball, this will be a long, complicated, and drawn out process that may take literally many years before a definitive outcome is clear. Until then, we can be sure to expect more of the same.

About the Author

Jeff Berman headshot
Jeff Berman
Group News Editor

Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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