Road View | HOS off and running?

By: Tom Kelley

FMCSA HOS regulationsEarlier this month, the long-embattled, much-revised HOS rules went into effect. Even though the revision process was by no means rushed, barely more than a week passed before the first exception needed to be made. To be fair, there was actually one last-minute exception added in before the July 1st enforcement date, so the early July change can’t even lay claim to being the first revision.

Long In The Making

When revisions to the HOS rules were discussed in the mid-nineties, the existing rules had been in force for nearly six decades. Although long-haul trucking had evolved tremendously in the prior six decades, there was only one significant change in the HOS rules. About halfway through that 60 year period, the driver’s HOS clock was revised from 24 to 18 hours, without any relevant explanation.

So then, in 2003, nearly a decade after the HOS update haggling began, the trucking industry was presented with a set of rules concocted by the best and brightest minds in the activist and regulatory communities. The rules were unwieldy at best, and even though some explanations of the rules dwarfed the actual text of the rules, the trucking industry was prepared to do its best to turn lemons into lemonade.

But Wait, There’s More…

If only it had been that simple, to go ahead with the HOS rules as delivered in 2003. But no, it seems that the anti-truck activist groups that already had far too big a hand in the creation of the 2003 rules felt that they hadn’t yet done enough damage.  “Lawfare” tactics gave them yet another heckler’s veto over a process in which they held no legitimate role.

Even Longer

From April 24, 2003, to July 1, 2013. That’s a total of 3,721 days. Or 89,304 hours. Or 5,358,240 minutes. To implement a rule that only encompasses eight days at its furthest extent. And that doesn’t account for a decade or so of wrangling leading up to the 2003 debut of the HOS revision.

By way of comparison, the Manhattan Project went from inception to the “Trinity” test in just 1,080 days, or just under three years. The Apollo space program went from Kennedy’s proposal to Armstrong and Aldrin landing on the moon in just 2,977 days, or a little more than eight years.

What a legacy this generation will leave. In the Forties, they harnessed the power of the atom; in the Sixties, they went to the moon; in the Twenty-Oughts, we scheduled a driver’s work-week. Wow. As Vice President Joe Biden would say, “That’s a big . . . deal.”

So Now It’s Done, Right?

That would be nice, BUT, even after three-quarters of a century of HOS rules, even after a decade in the re-making, and even after another decade in the re-re-making, guess what? The best and brightest in DC still didn’t get it right.

Maybe One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Hours of Service regulationsJust before the recent July 1st enforcement date, some DC rocket surgeon finally figured out that totally relieving a driver for responsibility for his truck and load during a mandatory 30-minute break in the middle of nowhere might not be such a wise idea if that load happened to contain radioactive material.

Never mind that the number of loads containing radioactive material is minute compared to loads with far greater terror potential, an exception to the 30-minute rest break rules was granted only to drivers hauling loads containing radioactive material.

Proving that the final HOS rules weren’t so final as of July 1st, yet another revision came less than two weeks after that date. It seems that somebody in the “Who-da-thunk” division discovered that it gets hot in the summer and that “livestock trailers bear an eery resemblance to a TV-dinner tray when left to bake in the hot sun.” Thus a 90-day summertime exemption to the rest break rules was granted for livestock haulers.

Reality? No, That Will Never Work

Unlike any of the activists and most of the bureaucrats, I’ve spent years behind the wheel. I know that it’s possible to be falling asleep with plenty of hours left or to be totally alert and out of hours. I also know that no amount of outside micro-management can have a positive effect on safety with regard to driver fatigue.

Sure, at the macro level there needs to be a pretty finite limit to total monthly hours and a reasonably tight margin on total weekly hours. However, only the driver can effectively manage his day-to-day schedule and fatigue levels.

Tom Kelley

Former fleet owner/manager, now writing about trucks.

10 thoughts on “Road View | HOS off and running?

  1. John Newlin

    What gets me is that oil field truckers can sit around “waiting”, and not get penalized (can be counted as off-duty), but as a regular van driver waiting at a shipper for 12 hours, I cannot count that as off-duty because of the way the HOS reads. That is a bunch of Hogwash (to be polite).

    Reply
  2. William Brewer

    I wonder why manufacturers and others require one to clock out prior to breaktime, yet the driver has to take 30 minutes and clock still ticks?? Why is is less safe for a driver to decide that they need a break but can’t take one or take additional 34 restarts?? It seems to me that they have the safety issue backwards!!! Why ask for drivers input on regs when they know it goes in one ear and out the other??

    Reply
    1. Tom Kelley

      Will, Hourly pay is the answer you’re looking for, but that’s unlikely to happen in the long-haul trucking world.

      As for breaks, exceptions and restarts, I have a novel idea: Let’s allow the folks behind the wheel to manage their own time within broadly defined limits.

      I don’t know how many pages the rules span (this week), but my plan fits into one small paragraph, as follows:

      “Drivers must get at least 8 hours sleep out of every 24 hours, must not be on-duty more than X hours per month and must not be driving more than Y hours per month.”

      Period. That’s the entire law. We can debate the numbers that get plugged into X and Y, but that’s it. No complexity, no room for random enforcement interpretations, simple and easy to follow.

      Anything that fits within those broad limits is up to the driver.

      Reply
  3. Tom Kelley

    Yep, yet another exception. Before the next 12 months are up, I’d bet that, between the rest-break and off-duty time, there will be more than 100 exceptions on the books.

    How can anybody, cop or trucker, keep on top of that patchwork of rules?

    The only bright spot is that the guys who do get to take advantage of the exceptions are the ones who will have the hardest time convincing a cop that their exception really exists.

    BTW, “hogwash” is too polite a description for the final version of the rules.

    Reply
  4. Michael Stevens

    So your 8 hours sleep in 24 could be taken in 2, 4 hours or 4, 2 hours increments or any combination. While I’m for simplicity as much as the next guy, it also gives those that this law is intend for more leeway to maximize the $$. I don’t agree to all the rules and maybe it just needs to say “Drivers must have logged 10 hours off-duty time before start of an on-duty day (max 14 hours)and of which 11 hours of driving can be accomplished. Of the 10 hours off-duty, 8 hours must be spent sleeping.” Even this may have some bugs to work out, but its a start. Maybe others will chime in and we could get a comprehensive statement that all can agree and bring it forward. Yeah I know “Who am I kidding.” Safe driving!

    Reply
    1. Tom Kelley

      Michael, – Yes, if that’s the way the driver prefers it. Key word there though is “driver.”

      No two of us are alike, and personally I’d find a pair of four hour naps more restful than a single eight hours of sleep on some days. Just because I lay down in a sleeper doesn’t mean I can get any sleep, due to stress, noise, weather or whatever at that moment.

      If I can get “recharged” with rest before driving the last two hours to a destination, I’m going to sleep much better when I do get to that destination knowing my route is completed, than if I tried to get the full 8 hours somewhere mid-route.

      Your definition works too, as would anything that explains the whole law in a single, clear, unambiguous paragraph.

      But again, only the driver has enough of the details to make these scheduling decisions, so the law can’t be designed to micro-manage, and all discretion needs to be in the hands of the driver.

      Reply
  5. thomas

    One thing I do not understand is why do the trucking companies not stand up to this bureaucratic bs and join together and fight these people in washinton . I mean enough is enough I’m sorry but its not about safety its about revenue when they changed the rules to 14 hour it was very simple you start at 12 am your finished at 2 pm unless you had there required break in between and the 34 hr restart what difference does it make 34 hours is 34 hours no matter what time you start it. I am so upset that our government and the people in this country are so ignorant its no wonder that our economy and our lives are in the shape that they are in. It should be left upto the driver because as you said everyone is different. But I think there is nothing wrong with a person working 14 hours a day 7 days a week if they are physically able to. What is wrong with that ? You should not have to worry about 70 hours in 8 days and 60 hours in 7 days its just away for our gov to get into our pockets. The only thing that they are regulating is revenue. I personally have taken the 10 hr break and got upto drive and was tired after 200 miles and I pulled over and took me a nap. Then again I have driven the full 11 consecutive and took my break as required. Its common sense if you get tired pull over don’t fight it just take a break nap etc. Why will the fmcsa and all the tree hugging go green people not just leave the industry alone. If its not broke don’t fix it. We have become so politically correct and we have allowed these ambulance chasing lawyers and insurance companies ruin our country with work man comp laws that have driven jobs out of the usa and higher taxes on these companies forcing them to either close increase prod cost to consumer or move to china or mexico because of some gov bs. I am sorry for rambling and getting off the main subject line but its all relevant in the long run.

    Reply
    1. Tom Kelley

      In the current political environment, standing up and fighting carries a high cost. Just ask the TEA Party folks how it worked out for them with the IRS.

      I think that anything beyond a minimum daily sleep requirement and maximum monthly hours is too much micro-management.

      Micro-managing started with the 70/60 in 8/7, and we went along with that; then the 34-hour restart was added, clumsily so, and we more or less went along with that.

      Now it’s at the point where when and how we take daily breaks has been spelled out in infinite detail, and when we do take a day off, we have a mandated “bedtime” that applies regardless of our typical sleep schedule.

      What’s next? Having to write something 100 times on a chalkboard when found guilty of a trumped-up infraction?

      You’re right about this being revenue regulation. The faux-safety groups (aka the rail lobby) had far too much say in the HOS re-write, and their input was clearly focused on cutting the trucking industry’s productivity, NOT safety.

      Reply
  6. thomas

    I know this is not about the subject at hand but do you write for anyone else other then trucker resource ? And as drivers what can we do to express our views on this matter even not just drivers but as citizens of this country. Any web sites or any information in general would be much appreciated. Keep up the great job that you do. Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    1. Tom Kelley

      My other online outlet for trucker topics is TR’s “sister” site, http://www.otrprotrucker.com .

      I also write for a number of print titles from the same company, so you may be interested in checking out my “Viewpoint” column every month in “Best Driver Jobs” magazine.

      Apart from sharing your thoughts with other drivers here, the next most important step is making sure your elected officials know how you feel. You may only be one person, but if enough voices from the driver community make themselves heard, it can make a difference.

      Reply

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