Many Questions, Few Answers
Hours Proposal Creates Huge Practical Challenges
By Henry E. Seaton
July 2000
Reprinted from

As of mid-June, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has refused to extend the deadline for comments on the proposed new hours-of-service regulations. Barring a change of heart, you now have less than a month to express your views.

The short response time for this major rule is no accident. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater apparently wants to keep the comment period at the minimum so FMCSA can issue a final rule between the election in November and the presidential inauguration in January. A new hours of service regime isn't something that FMCSA should "railroad" through.

The proposal is based upon untested assumptions about how drivers use time off. Any claims of a safety benefit from the proposed rules are pure speculation, not science. The so-called 10-hour rule, which would require long-haul drivers to have 10 consecutive and uninterrupted hours off duty during every 24-hour period, is wholly artificial and based on no science at all. So is the hard-to-understand "weekend" rule, which would require a driver to be off duty for a period that includes at least two consecutive midnight-to-6 a.m. periods.

Under the proposed rule, all waiting time would be counted as "on-duty time."

This requirement, plus the 10-hour rule means that a solo (team drivers could split rest) long-haul driver has 14 hours a day available, of which two must be "off duty." If a driver spends excessive time waiting, loading or unloading, he can't make up the mileage without: (1) breaking the hours of service rules or (2) speeding.
Clearly, the proposed rule raises more questions than it answers. The rules appear unduly rigid and inflexible and totally out of touch with the practical logistics of the just in time inventory system on which most industry now operates.

The National Association of Small Trucking Companies has proposed a pilot program in conjunction with 3 of its members to test the hours-of-service proposals in the real world. Such testing should be the minimum prerequisite of any such wide sweeping regulation before its implementation.

Consider these questions that DOT's proposal raises:

* After a driver sleeps for 8 hours at a rest stop, what is he supposed to do with the extra 2 hours of downtime before he returns to duty?
* Why are solo drivers required to take 10 consecutive hours off duty when team drivers are allowed to split sleeper berth time?
* What accommodations will DOT make for the increased parking requirements of long-haul truckers created by these hours-of-service requirements?
* Wouldn't the new rules actually encourage drivers to speed during rush hour in order to keep early morning delivery appointments?
* How can the FMCSA estimate the cost of an electronic on-board recorder for small carriers without available marketplace pricing?
* Unless there is a standard protocol for recorders, might owner-operators or carriers be forced to buy new recorders when owner-operators change carriers?
* What can a carrier do when a driver loses 5 hours at a loading dock and is 200 miles from home when his mandatory "weekend" break occurs?
* What will happen to carrier-shipper contracts when carriers can no longer make all their Monday morning deliveries due to the strict weekend rule?
* Will the federal government support a relaxation of the immigration laws to ameliorate the adverse affect of the proposed rules on the driver shortage?

You don't have much time, but take the time to comment. Urge your drivers, owner-operators and shippers to become familiar with the proposal and submit comments. Don't wait until final rules are issued to get concerned, motivated or politically active. And your elected representatives need to know the unwarranted, crippling, and oppressive effect the proposed rules would have on the transportation industry and your company in particular.


Mail comments by July 31 to Docket Clerk, U.S. DOT Dockets, Room PL-401, 400 Seventh Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20590-0001. Comments must cite Docket No. FMCSA-97-2350.
(703) 573-0700
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