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To split or not to split: FMCSA can’t win on waivers

To split or not to split: FMCSA can’t win on waivers

Is the hours of service rule collapsing under its own weight, or are the growing number of waivers that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has granted simply part of the plan?

At issue is the exemption application from CRST Expedited, who would like team drivers to be able to split their sleeper berth periods.  As explained in the request, CRST is the largest fleet of team drivers in the country, with 3,000 team drivers on the road in 1,500 trucks on any given day.

The company asks that these drivers be able to fulfill the sleeper berth requirement with two periods totaling at least 10 hours, provided neither of the two periods is less than 3 hours in length. CRST notes that many of their team drivers are new to trucking. These drivers have said that driving an entire 10-11 hour shift is too long and that they want the opportunity to switch with a partner more frequently.

According to CRST, having the flexibility to switch allows each driver to take advantage of shorter time periods when they may feel fatigued. Further, splitting the sleeper berth time for both team drivers would allow each to obtain sleep during critical nighttime hours, which would provide more restorative sleep.

In exchange for the exemption, CRST says it will cap the behind-the-wheel time for each driver at 10 hours; will use EOBRs to track compliance; will equip all tractors with speed limiters set at 65 mph; and will equip new trucks with collision avoidance technology.

Seems entirely reasonable, yes? And in granting the request, FMCSA would show that the regulator can bend the rules when and where it makes sense.

Except such flexibility opens FMCSA to criticism from those who will say the agency is too cozy with the industry it oversees, while others will argue that, with these substantial waivers, maybe the whole rule needs to be reconsidered.

So it would seem the least troublesome decision, for FMCSA, would be to deny the split-sleeper request, maintain the status quo and move on. Except the regulator earlier this year approved a similar request, so the precedent is out of the bag. (The McKee Foods Transportation exemption is published here.)

And that makes the CRST application a pretty good bet for approval—which brings us back to the issue of whether HOS needs to be revisited in its entirety, rather than tying the agency up with request after request for exemptions. Because they're just going to keep coming.

Already, carriers that haul U.S. mail are awaiting a decision to exempt them from the 14-hour rule, a request based on the “split-shift” nature of the routes. (Both the CRST and postal carrier requests are open for comment until Sept. 21).

The geocentric model: Too many exceptions

And the 30-minute break rule has been crumbling for a while, with exemptions granted to various specialty carriers and last week, at the request of the American Trucking Assns., to hazmat carriers. (The current roster of FMCSA exemption applications is here.)

There’s a principle called Occam’s razor that says that the simpler solution, if both models work about the same, is the better one. The text book example is that the motion of the sun, moon and planets can be predicted very well by a model that places the earth at the center of the solar system—except that model gets very complicated. Putting the sun at the center is a more direct solution.

The problem for FMCSA may well be that it’s going to be a lot easier to manage exemptions than to try to come up with a new hours of service rule that works better and isn't substantially more complicated. Indeed, the complications around enforcement are why the current rule doesn't allow for split-sleeper periods. But the rule-by-exemption slope is going to get really slippery when a carrier comes up with a good plan for solo drivers to split the driving day.

We’ll see. In the meantime, give credit to FMCSA for the incremental corrections. And truckers, get those exemption applications ready.

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