As truck drivers, we all want to drive in the safest possible conditions, and we all want to make a decent living doing the important work that we do. There are so many things in trucking that we can’t control – like traffic, the weather and other unforeseeable things that happen throughout the day – but that is all just part of being a truck driver. But, what we can control is ourselves, and good drivers do that every day. In the face of safety statistics that seem to continue to improve every year, why is FMCSA targeting truck drivers and, in particular the hours-of-service (HOS), to make our highways safer? It would seem to me that there are many other better ways to accomplish that end. Maybe it’s just not about “safety” at all anymore!
It would be nice if there were a few politicians that would step back and look at the bigger picture regarding the issues surrounding truckers and highway safety. Maybe they could start their own safety “bandwagon” with proposals that are well thought-out and use common sense. Then, put some real teeth in them to really promote safety on our highways, instead of the usual “talk with no walk” that only seems to please the special interest groups (and line the politician’s pockets). Good legislation could actually make drivers not only safer but more productive, and help them to better use their home time for rest.
Currently, we are required to have a minimum of 10 consecutive hours off duty between shifts – that would stay the same under this most-recently proposed revamp. Now, a driver’s total on-duty window in each shift is 14 consecutive hours, but that would change, leaving only 13 productive hours because of a (proposed) required rest break – 10 consecutive hours of driving would no longer be allowed. In the new proposal, you may only drive if it has been 7 hours or less since your last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes. Mandatory rest breaks of at least 60 minutes during each on-duty window, either taken in one block or broken up into two 30 minute breaks, would now be required. Under the current system, any consecutive 34 hour break resets your 70-hour/8-day clock. Under the proposed system, the restart period would be required to include two nighttime periods (midnight to 6 a.m.). Drivers would only be permitted to use the restart provision once in any seven-day period. The FMCSA is also leaning towards reducing the driving time from 11 hours a day to just 10, thus cutting more of our productive (driving) time.
I went to The Lockridge Report and read about the Canadian HOS and compared them to ours. Maybe it’s time to take a look at how our neighbors to the north have successfully addressed this issue without all the special interest groups mucking things up. According to Pat Cuthbert, the Canadian HOS basics are: 13 hours of driving in a 14 hour day in a 16 hour window. They must have 8 consecutive hours off duty. The 16 hour window allows for 2 hours during the day for breaks, with the break being a minimum of 30 minutes. Seventy hours are allowed in 7 days, and it takes 36 hours to reset the 70-hour clock. Their day can be extended by 2 hours to allow for unforeseen things such as weather or accidents, rolling that extra time into the next day, which still counts towards their 70-hour total rule.
One thing that contributes to the need for a longer driving time allowed in Canada is that they have fewer truck stops – the Canadian officials actually looked at that fact and made the rules using common sense! They also factored into their regulation the time for drivers to make certain turns, like Toronto to Quebec, in one driving period without having to stop close to their destination and take a required rest. That seems to make too much sense for us Americans! And, if you are wondering, the Canadian safety records, like ours, (supposedly) continue to improve every year. I say “supposedly” because I have heard these statistics reported for decades, but I do not know where they hide them. I went to several websites to verify this fact, but all I found is “updated” 2010 or 2011 numbers based on 2008 statistics (which did show continued improving safety records, I might add).
Now, before some of you start screaming about having to drive for 13 hours, remember, you don’t have to drive for 13 hours, but it would allow for better planning of trips and could make drivers more productive. It would also help to allow for all of the unplanned things a driver can encounter in their day, such as bad weather and/or heavy traffic. By stopping the clock instead of burning it up while you just sit, it gives your schedule some flexibility – something it doesn’t have with our current regulations.
I recently heard on the radio that a university study concluded that most accidents happen in the first hour – not the last hour – of a driver’s shift. To me, this suggests that adding hours would not add problems, so long as drivers know their individual limits. Drivers may be able to drive longer (and safer) if they take the time to “clear the cobwebs” before starting their day. Crawling out of the sleeper and then doing a quick pre-trip may not be enough wake-up time before getting going. This is more of a common sense issue than a HOS issue, but, unfortunately, you can’t mandate common sense. If we could, we would have the safest roads on the planet!
One of the requirements in the new proposal is that drivers must have two off-duty periods between midnight and 6 a.m. in order to reset their 70-hour clock with only 34 hours off. I wonder who thought of this bright idea which forces trucks to be off the road when there is the least amount of traffic. And is that not the point of being a team operation – to run at all hours and be able to make those “just in time” deliveries? Does it really make sense to shut down more trucks at the hours with the least amount of traffic only to start them running again right at rush-hour? Plus, how can it be a good idea to shut down trucks between these hours when so many delivery and pickup appointments are scheduled at hours like 5:00 or 6:00 am?
I really have a problem with forcing drivers to shut down for two consecutive nights between midnight and 6:00 a.m. Yes, we do have more truck stops here in the U.S. as compared to Canada, but how many times have you pulled into truck stop after truck stop only to find them all full, forcing you to go on a late-night hunt for a safe parking place? And when you are tired, all you want is a place to park so you can sleep – you don’t want to keep driving – and you shouldn’t have to! It depends on where you are, but I have found in recent years that the truck stops are filling up earlier and earlier. So, if you can’t find a spot to stop until 1:00 in the morning, you just missed your required break time window so that rest period won’t count toward your restart.
Maybe addressing the lack of safe parking spaces would be money and time better spent, instead of revamping the HOS – again. With so many states closing rest areas due to budget cuts and many truck stops closing due to the poor economy, it just gets harder and harder to find a spot. On top of that, when they do close a truck stop, they often put up fences around the parking lot so drivers can’t even take advantage of the empty spaces (they end up being lost parking spots for everyone). Some shippers and receivers provide areas for trucks to park in while waiting for their appointment. Those have always been my favorite places to pick up and deliver.
Many of the drivers I have talked to don’t like the lack of flexibility with the current regulations. After all, who wants to stop when you are just a couple hours from home and be forced to sit around at a truck stop? Wouldn’t it be better to let that driver go home where he or she can truly rest and enjoy their off-duty time. I think that a happy driver is a better (and safer) driver. Wouldn’t you agree?
I wish they had more programs like the one Maine used to have. I could not find any information on it when I searched the internet, but they used to have a program called “Truckers and Troopers” where drivers would ride with troopers and vice-versa, allowing each to get a better perspective of what the other encountered on a daily basis. Who are on the roads more than truck drivers and troopers? Doesn’t it make more sense to work together? And in regards to HOS, how is it that an officer, who carries a gun, can work a double shift and get paid overtime? When we work “overtime” we are fined and shut down. I have never been able to understand that one. Tell me that a police officer doesn’t need to be just as alert after 15 hours if he or she goes on a serious call or a 100-mph high-speed pursuit? Think about it. I have said it before, but we are the only industry that is punished for working overtime.
I keep hearing that 75% of accidents involving trucks are caused by cars. If that is true, and I believe it is, wouldn’t it make more sense to better educate the people driving the cars? Talking with Ellen Voie, the President and CEO of Women In Trucking Inc., she told me that the Wisconsin Motor Carrier’s Association Road Team visits at least 200 driver’s education classes a year. What better way to learn about and understand big trucks than to sit in the seat!
Maybe it’s time to do away with “business as usual” when it comes to making regulations, and instead use thought and common sense. We need rules that will really make our highways safer, but our industry is so diverse that it is nearly impossible to address (and regulate) every sector with just one set of regulations – but that is what they attempt to do. In my opinion, longer hours would be good, but drivers would have to work within their limits. The new rules should also be flexible – trucking is a “messy” business, fraught with all sorts of unforeseen obstacles – the regulations should account for that. And if they are going to make drivers stop more often, they better address the parking issues.
But the single most important change to make our highways safer would be to better educate the car drivers. Seriously, if they are responsible for 75% of the truck-related crashes, let’s go after them. If safety truly is the ultimate goal, it only makes sense. But I am holding my breath on that one. In the meantime, let’s hope whatever they come up with we can still earn a living! Stay tuned!!