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Focus: Transportation Management

Feature Article from Our Transportation Management Subject Area - See All

From SCDigest's On-Target E-Magazine

SCDigest Editorial Staff

Jan. 4, 2011

Logistics News: Proposed New Hours of Service Rules a "Lump of Coal" in Trucking Industry's Stocking, ATA Says


New Rules Could Reduce Driving Time by an Additional Hours, Other Hits to Productivity; Fixing Something that is not Broken?

On December 29, the Obama administration published its proposal for still more changes in the Hours of Service (HOS) rules in the Federal Register, following years of complaints by some consumer groups that the 2004 HOS changes did not go far enough to protect highway safety.


According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), a division of the Dept. of Transportation, the proposed rule would make six important changes from current requirements.

SCDigest Says:

An interesting twist is that the given the safety improvements, the rules are being pitched as an effort to improve driver health, not public safety as in past HOS changes.
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(1) Limit drivers to either 10 or 11 hours of driving time following a period of at least 10 consecutive hours off duty - the agency is still determining its final stance, but says it "currently favors a 10-hour limit."

(2) Would limit the standard ``driving window'' to 14 hours, while allowing that number to be extended to 16 hours twice a week.

(3) Actual duty time within the driving window would be limited to 13 hours.

(4) Drivers would be permitted to drive only if 7 hours or less have passed since their last off-duty or sleeper-berth period of at least 30 minutes.

(5) The 34- hour restart would be retained, subject to certain limits: The restart would have to include two periods between midnight and 6 a.m. and could be started no sooner than 168 hours (7 days) after the beginning of the previously designated restart.

(6) The definition of ``on duty'' would be revised to allow some time spent in or on the vehicle to be logged as off duty.

There is also a seventh proposed changed that relates specifically to oil field operations.

See the full proposal in the Federal Register here: Proposed Hours of Service Changes

Comments on the proposed changes are being accepted until Feb. 28, 2011.


ATA Says Changes were a Lump of Coal for Truckers and Shippers

The American Trucking Associations, which represents carriers, lashed out against the proposal, first announced on Dec. 23, as "three big chunks of coal under trucking's Christmas tree," citing three primary problems among the six proposed changes.


The new rules, the ATA says, would likely reduce the maximum daily driving time to 10 hours; reduce the maximum daily working time window by an additional hour; and - counter to the government’s news release - abolish the 34-hour restart as it exists today.

The proposal is “overly complex, chock full of unnecessary restrictions on professional truck drivers and, at its core, [and] would substantially reduce trucking’s productivity,” said Bill Graves, President and CEO of the ATA.

It notes the trucking industry's significant and steady progress on safety under existing rules, which Graves says "has been remarkable."

The ATA says that crash-related fatalities are down 33 percent from the 2003 level, and that both fatality and injury crash rates are at their lowest level since the USDOT began keeping records. (See graphic below - it is interesting to note the HOS changes in 2004 were correlated with a downward move in fatalities.)


Source: ATA/US Dept. of Transportation

"Trucking’s never been safer," Graves says, saying "The Obama Administration’s willingness to break something that’s not broken likely has everything to do with politics and little or nothing to do with highway safety or driver health.”

An interesting twist is that the given the safety improvements, the rules are being pitched as an effort to improve driver health, not public safety as in past HOS changes.

(Transportation Management Article Continued Below)



In reality, the rule changes are not all bad for truckers, at least versus what some consumer groups wanted. The new rules did not alter the 60 or 70 hour-window workweeks, as some had proposed, but unlike the current rules, restarts are restricted to one during that period.

To offset some of the changes that would reduce driving time, the proposed rules would also extend a driver's daily shift to 16 hours twice a week to accommodate for lost time loading and unloading at terminals or ports, and allow drivers to count some time spent parked in their trucks toward off-duty hours. The current rules state a driver sitting in a parked truck counts as on-duty time, unless he or she is  in the sleeper. But under the new rules, resting in a parked truck would no longer considered on-duty.

Some in the trucking industry hoped the new rules would restore the split sleeper berth provision that allowed drivers to break up the two rest periods in blocks of their own choosing, but that wasn't to be. The mandatory eight consecutive hours off remains.

Mike Regan, CEO of TranzAct Technologies, says you have to really look in detail at the new rules to understand the impact - and all told, it isn't probably good for trucking.

"On the surface it looks like it could have been much worse," Regan told SCDigest. "The DOT left themselves some wiggle room. For example, they did not specifically increase the restart period (e.g. from 34 to 40, or 48 hours), and they did not officially mandate a reduction to 10 hours. So it looks like it was designed as a middle of the road proposal."

However, the result may not nearly so benign, Regan says.

"Dig a little deeper and you start to understand that this is a poorly designed compromise that pleases few of the parties that have been fighting this battle," he notes.

For example, by mandating that the 34 hour period include at least two periods between 12:00 am and 6:00 am, it is in practical effect mandating that a driver be off from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am two days later.

While this may not seem like a big deal to some shippers, "This is actually a significant change," Regan notes. .  

He also says that by refusing to stake out a position on the 11 versus 10 hour question, the DOT is basically inviting a batlle of lobbyists -a dubious way to set national transportation policies.

Regan also believes that the rules will be very difficult to enforce without Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs) - and he notes some think the rules may be written this way to force the EOBR requirement issue.

Impact on Shippers

With capacity already tightening, the new rules could further dent truck driver productivity and thus raise costs for shippers and reduce industry capacity, especially if the move from 11 to 10 hours of driving time is enacted.


The ATA says that the FMCSA itself estimated two years ago increased logistics costs of over $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by 1 hour and the restart provision was significantly changed - and that these proposed HOS changes go even further than the scenario analyzed at the time.


What are your thoughts on the new Hours of Service proposed changes? Does it really matter to shippers? Let us know your thoughts at the Feedback button below.

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Happy New Year!
Regarding the proposed new HOS regulations, several changes will operate to further reduce trucker’s capacities to move freight:
1.   The proposed 1-hour reduction in the “maximum on-duty time,” from 14 to 13 hours, together with the announced imposition of a “7-hour maximum consecutive driving hours since a last off-duty period of at least 30 minutes,” might operate to constrict drivers’ on-the-road productivity by as much as 4 to 5%; while
2.    The possible 1-hour reduction of maximum work-day driving hours, from 11 to 10 hours, could impose an additional approx. 9% constriction of drivers’ on-the-road productivity.  Lastly,
3.   The proposed mandate that maximum on-duty hour “restart” will only be exercisable when that 34-hour off-duty record includes “two periods between Midnight and 6am,” wreaks (to me, at least) of “Big brother, requiring that we sleep not when we want to, but – rather – when he tells us to.”
Two outcomes are certain; (a) many drivers and truckers will find the new regs. to be confusing and/or offensive; and (b) lawyers for both “public interest” groups and trucking industry associations will find the new regs. to be a wonderful source of billable revenue hours.
Thom A. Williams
AmherstAlphaAdvisors LLC