Trucking industry pushes back against new driver rules

story by Michael Tilley
mtilley@thecitywire.com

A legislative delay of new hours-of-service rules is being sought by the U.S. trucking industry, but the head of Arkansas’ trucking industry says the legislative effort will not work and rising shipping costs resulting from the new rules may be the only path to regulatory relief.

The U.S. Department of Transportation began in 2004 a series of rules designed to regulate hours worked by truck drivers in an effort to reduce accidents and promote driver health. On July 1, a more restrictive hours-of-service rule was issued that not only limited the amount of hours a driver could work, but also mandated rest and break periods.

“The goal of this rulemaking is to reduce excessively long work hours that increase both the risk of fatigue-related crashes and long-term health problems for drivers,” noted the opening line from a Q&A posted by the DOT.

Continuing, the DOT noted: “The objective of this rule, therefore, is to reduce both acute and chronic fatigue by limiting the maximum number of hours per day and week that the drivers can work. The rule reduces a driver’s average maximum allowable hours of work per week from 82 hours to 70 hours, a 15% reduction. The 15% reduction in the average maximum allowable hours of work based on the new rule results from the restrictions on the use of the restart period.”

THE RULES
Following are some of the key changes in the new rules.
• Provision: Limitations on minimum “34-hour restarts”
Previous rule: None.
New rule: Must include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., home terminal time. May only be used once per week, 168 hours, measured from the beginning of the previous restart.

• Provision: Rest breaks
Previous rule: None except as limited by other rule provisions.
New rule: May drive only if 8 hours or less have passed since end of driver’s last off-duty or sleeper berth period of at least 30 minutes.

• Provision: On-duty time
Previous rule: Includes any time in CMV except sleeper berth.
New rule: Does not include any time resting in a parked vehicle (also applies to passenger- carrying drivers). In a moving property-carrying CMV, does not include up to 2 hours in passenger seat immediately before or after 8 consecutive hours in sleeper berth.

• Provision: Penalties
Previous rule: “Egregious” hours-of-service violations not specifically defined.
New rule: Driving (or allowing a driver to drive) more than 3 hours beyond the driving-time limit may be considered an “egregious” violation and subject to the maximum civil penalties. Also applies to passenger-carrying drivers.

The DOT estimates that the new rule will boost annual trucking industry expenses by about $470 million, but said benefits from safety, driver health and other factors will produce an overall net economic gain of up to $280 million a year.

‘FUZZY MATH’
Greg Carman, president of Fort Smith-based Carman Inc. and a board member of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said the federal rules have little to do with the reality of what is needed among trucking companies that have different routes, client needs and business models.

Carman, who operates a company that has 45 tractors and has worked as a driver in the fleet, said the new rules have already caused two experienced Carman drivers to retire instead of see their hours and pay reduced.

“The agency used logic that forcing break, rest, or driving periods at a particular time was a one size fits all proposition. Cardian rhythms and all types of fuzzy math were introduced by people that have never experienced being in a truck,” Carman said.

That sentiment was also expressed by Duane Long, chairman of Raleigh, N.C.-based Longistics and the first vice chairman of the American Trucking Associations’.

“Simply put, the July 1 hours-of-service rule changes were unnecessary; the regulations adopted in 2003 were working and the administration offered rhetoric but little data to explain why they needed to be changed,” Long said during a Nov. 21 hearing before the U.S. House Small Business Committee. “Unfortunately, the gap between the administration’s rhetoric and the trucking industry’s operating reality is very wide. These changes are having a very real, and very negative impact on hundreds of thousands of drivers and motor carriers.”

Jeff Lester, executive vice president and chief risk officer of Van Buren-based USA Truck, said the new rule does not consider the practical aspect of forcing all drivers around the country into a similar driving window.

“The 34-hour restart requirement that requires 2 consecutive rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. was based on science however does not give the same consideration to the commercial and public impact. To further illustrate this point the change creates increased traffic during peak drive times and could limit a drivers available drive time,” Lester noted in a statement to The City Wire.

USA Truck has about 2,200 trucks and more than 3,000 employees.

FEWER DEATHS
The DOT has rejected the notion that the new rules will force drivers to change schedules or make other adjustments that force travel during busy traffic times.

“The (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) knows of no reason why drivers would stop driving at night to avoid the extra hours that may be needed to meet the 2-night requirement. Most drivers who regularly drive overnight do not work enough hours to need a restart and, therefore are not subject to the 2-night requirement,” according to a Q&A posted Dec. 22, 2011 by the DOT.

DOT officials have pointed to fewer crashes and deaths from previous rules to gather public support for the rules implemented earlier this year. Fatal truck crashes totaled 3,215 in 2009, down from 4,766 in 2006. The number of fatalities from truck crashes fell from 5,027 in 2006 to 3,380 in 2009.

Carman maintains that the new rules will require shifts, just as previous hours-of-service rules created “irrational” changes.

“We have not and are not complaining about the total weekly hours a driver can drive. The deterioration in how a driver may operate and rest within these boundaries though has been irrational and based on dubious reasoning. I have several drivers here that enjoy driving at nighttime when traffic is low. The new rules have not allowed them to operate as they safely have for many years. I would argue that their millions of miles of safe driving has not been an accident. They know better than some bureaucrat when they need to rest,” Carman said.

EFFORT TO DELAY
HR 3413, the TRUE Safety Act filed by U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., seeks to delay implementation of the new rules until after a study can be conducted to determine if the soundness of the methodology behind the changes. Hanna claims the new rules will have a negative annual impact of $376 million on the trucking industry.

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As of Dec. 3, the proposed legislation had 41 Republican sponsors and four Democratic sponsors. U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, are listed among the sponsors. Claire Burghoff, a spokesman for Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, said he has agreed to be a co-sponsor. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is reviewing the bill to consider becoming a sponsor.

Lane Kidd, executive director of the Arkansas Trucking Association, said Hanna’s bill may pass the House, but will not see success in the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate.

Kidd also acknowledged that it’s a “tough sell” to explain to those not in the industry that a 70-hour work week is not the same as a 70-hour week in most other occupations. However, he said the rules could push some drivers out of the business – as has happened with Carman – and make worse a driver shortage problem now facing the industry.

If the rules are relaxed, it will be from pressure exerted by companies who contract with the trucking industry, Kidd said. Retail and other economic sectors may see shipping costs rise as a result of the new rules.

“The only way that the rule is relaxed is if the shippers of the United States, collectively, see that these new rules are increasing their costs of transportation. And if it becomes a significant increase, then they will apply pressure to see that the (HOS) rules are reduced,” Kidd explained.

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