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Uproar over proposed HOS regulations not abating anytime soon

By Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
February 23, 2011

As you probably already know, not too long ago the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) floated the idea of reducing available daily driving time for truck drivers by one hour from 11 to ten hours per day.

Needless to say, this was not well received, and not surprisingly, it seems to have become even less popular than it was when first introduced.

The reasons for this vary. But in most cases it comes back to the fact that the current regulations are safe and reasonable, with an ample amount of data available to back that up.

The new FMCSA proposal released perhaps as an early Christmas present (more likely a lump of coal) on December 23 is comprised of the following:
-dropping available driving time from 11 to ten hours per day;
-retaining a portion of the “34-hour restart” provision by allowing drivers to restart their weekly clock by taking at least 34 consecutive hours off-duty. However, the restart provision would be revised by requiring that it include two;
-decreasing daily “on-duty” time from a maximum 14 to 13 hours. Drivers would continue to be allowed to drive either 10 or 11 hours within a 14-hour “window”;
-requiring a minimum 30-minute break after a maximum of 7 hours driving or working in order for a driver to continue driving; and
-permitting the standard 14-hour window to be extended to 16 hours twice a week.

These are, in sum, pretty major changes. And to get an idea as to the potential negative impact they could have on supply chain management operations for shippers across the nation look no further than what my colleague John D. Schulz wrote in a January LM article.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) trial balloon to reduce by one hour (from 11 to 10) the actual time a truck driver can be driving is a horrific idea, unbased in science or data, that would conservatively cost the U.S. economy $2 billion in lost productivity, and probably much more in inefficiency and additional infrastructure requirements.”

Starting to get the picture here? Try this one from Stifel Nicolaus Managing Director John Larkin on for size. This is from last week’s FMCSA listening session on the impacts associated with the FMCSA’s proposed changes to HOS rules.

“We believe the proposed HOS rules would make driving a truck, already a difficult profession with more than its fair share of irritations, less appealing to many workers (due both to lifestyle factors and possibly less pay). Therefore, we believe that tightened HOS rules, combined with other safety regulations, could exacerbate an upcoming driver shortage driven by volume growth and unfavorable driver demographics. Some carriers may experience near-term cost increases associated with hiring/training/retaining drivers and rerouting freight through alternate terminals. Longer-term, tightening HOS rules will likely serve as one of several regulatory actions that will constrain driver and capacity availability. We believe that in the presence of tight driver and capacity availability, trucking rates should increase at faster trajectory than trucking costs despite expected increases to certain expense line items.”

Well, here is one more opinion from Rick Gaetz, president and CEO of Vitran Corporation.

“These changes would tighten a tight market even further,” Gaetz told me. “I think nobody will ever know when the perfect regulation is drafted. Much time and effort and great expense goes into the study of driver hours, driver fatigue and safety, and I think we are pretty close to having it right—where things stand now. The key measurement is safety, and statistically it appears and feels safe under the current format. The industry has to operate efficiently and safely, and those two lines are crossing very close right now in terms of working properly.”

I could go on for a while with many more comments about the uproar these proposed changes have caused, but there is not enough time for that. At the end of the day, we can only hope that the powers that be in the federal government truly take into account the potential backlash these changes could produce. Until then, we can only speculate on what may happen, but if the proposed changes become official, then we can all expect to see supply chains become shorter and more costly. Let’s hope for a better outcome than that.

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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