HOS rules quashed

We should have a better understanding this month of whether the current hours-of-services regulations mandating an 11-hour driving day will stand, or whether the industry will revert to the previous 10-hour day. Also to be decided is the 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to begin anew their weekly clock after being off-duty for 34 continuous hours. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for

We should have a better understanding this month of whether the current hours-of-services regulations mandating an 11-hour driving day will stand, or whether the industry will revert to the previous 10-hour day. Also to be decided is the 34-hour restart provision that allows drivers to begin anew their weekly clock after being off-duty for 34 continuous hours.

In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had not presented adequate data to back up its 2005 decision to increase driving time. The Court noted: “We conclude that the agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act because it failed to give interested parties an opportunity to comment on the methodology of the crash-risk model that the agency used to justify an increase in the maximum number of daily and weekly hours that truck drivers may drive and work. We also find that the agency failed to provide an explanation for critical elements of that methodology.”

Supporters of the 11-hour driving time regulation say that the ruling appears to be procedural and therefore can be fixed relatively simply. In a letter to DOT Secretary Mary Peters, American Trucking Assns. president and CEO Bill Graves noted: “While ATA is disappointed with the decision, we are encouraged by the fact that the shortcomings identified by the Court are procedural in nature and can be readily addressed by FMCSA.”

Others suggest, however, that remedial action may not be so easy and that the court's ruling was not merely procedural, but goes to the core of FMCSA's methodology, which, according to the brief filed by Public Citizen, often is flawed, contradictory and inconsistent.

For example, while the regulation argued that driving 11 hours is as safe as driving 10, in testimony and reports over the past 16 years, FMCSA noted that “driving in excess of 8 hours may be associated with a significantly increased risk of crash involvement.”

In addition, Public Citizen noted that FMCSA has declared repeatedly that each driver should have “8 consecutive hours of uninterrupted sleep every day,” and that drivers with “approximately 6 hours sleep showed impaired performance and alertness.” Yet they declared that 6.28 hours [the time drivers reportedly spent sleeping under the 2003 ruling] was “within normal ranges consistent with a healthy lifestyle.”

The trucking industry has spent two years working under an 11-hour rule, and although carriers at first complained that the new regulation might be tough to integrate into their schedules and routing, they did so with relatively little trouble. In fact, they applauded the move, because it gave drivers an extra hour behind the wheel and led to greater productivity.

What would happen if the 11th hour were removed and we reverted to the 10-hour clock? According to Jon Langenfeld, trucking analyst for Robert W. Baird & Co., the near-term effect would negatively impact productivity and profitability, and carriers would be loathe to increase rates to make up for lost productivity during the current freight recession.

On the positive side, some carriers might benefit in the long term. Said Langenfeld: “The heightened restrictions on driver work rules increase the industry's barriers to entry. This favors larger, more sophisticated participants with the technology and expertise to successfully manage the additional operational complexity. Higher barriers to entry could ultimately drive better rates.”

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