Photo: Petrovv | Dreamstime
Dreamstime Xxl 146953684 Petrovv

HOS pilots: Time will tell

March 25, 2021
With most administration changes, the opportunity to review any proposed regulatory initiatives almost always accompanies the change. This year, however, proposed pilot programs are threatened because of the timing in which they were put forward.

My brother is a chef, and it is fair to say that gourmet cooking does not necessarily run in the family. But a global pandemic has certainly brought forth an opportunity for me to try cooking some new recipes. This is an attempt to break up the sheer boredom from the winter blues coupled with social distancing measures and event postponements that COVID has brought to our society. New recipes allow you to try cooking something other than the normal staples we are used to. As you know, burgers and pasta will only get you so far. 

Keep this thought in mind as I expand on what should have been certain pilot programs to provide a useful change and safety improvement to an industry that is always looking for opportunities to improve. Relating failed attempts at cooking to potential pilot programs is a stretch for sure, but without the attempt, opportunities for improvement may never present themselves. By their very nature, pilot programs are experimental. They help organizations, even the federal government, by providing fact-based data to determine how a large-scale project may work if fully implemented. 

The mission at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. One strategy in support of that mission is to develop and enforce data-driven regulations that balance motor carrier safety with efficiency. With that impetus, this surely calls into question the possible suspension (again) of a pilot program to examine the effects of increased sleeper berth flexibility, or another experiment to obtain data that could prove the under-21 driver demographic is as responsible as its more seasoned counterparts.

With most administration changes, the opportunity to review any proposed regulatory initiatives almost always accompanies the change – a normal course of political life after most presidential elections.  What makes this year interesting is that the proposed pilot programs placed on the table only to be possibly shelved are threatened because of the timing in which they were put forward. I am talking about the opportunity to dive further into a professional truck driver’s hours of service (HOS) regulations and the opportunity to further study the safety performance of a driver demographic that many perceive to be unsafe at the start.

Sleeper berth flexibility had long been abandoned with HOS changes until recently when data, derived from electronic logging devices (ELDs), seemed to prescribe flexibility for drivers who are faced with dilemmas that the rigidness of a regulation could not cure. The constant pressure of a ticking clock, once addressed with paper logs, could no longer be circumvented with the compliance tool that was now required on the long-haul trucking industry. 

While safety advocates pondered the negativity of providing drivers with the luxury of adjusting their day, the ELD demonstrated that the mere comfort of being flexible was a privilege that could no longer be ignored; hence, the incorporation of a 7/3 split and a proposal to examine that split even further.  The need for a program to study the ramification of full flexibility is one that is much needed, since any opportunity to accurately glean such data disappeared years ago among the various HOS rule changes. 

Unfortunately, driver flexibility is not the only question that needs an answer. Our industry has not yet been afforded the luxury of recruiting drivers under the age of 21. As it stands now, drivers aged 18-20 are only able to operate in intrastate commerce, in an environment which many perceive to be quite controlled. And in many states, these intrastate loads can travel further within state boundaries than they may with the restrictive laws prohibiting them from crossing state lines.

Recently, a proposed pilot program was introduced to examine the safety performance of these drivers in an effort to gather data that does not exist in a publicly available format. And because of the time constraints, this study could also be sidelined with the administration change, leaving our industry to once again miss the opportunity to answer the question of whether drivers aged 18-20 can operate safely in the same environment as a 40-year-old.

Time will tell as to whether the powers that be at FMCSA move forward with these pilot programs.  Regardless of what administration sits in the White House, the questions will remain. But the desire, much like the aforementioned attempt at trying new recipes, should certainly grow in an attempt to find answers for an industry that always has questions.

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

Sponsored Recommendations

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...

80% Fewer Towable Accidents - 10 Key Strategies

After installing grille guards on all of their Class 8 trucks, a major Midwest fleet reported they had reduced their number of towable accidents by 80% post installation – including...

Proactive Fleet Safety: A Guide to Improved Efficiency and Profitability

Each year, carriers lose around 32.6 billion vehicle hours as a result of weather-related congestion. Discover how to shift from reactive to proactive, improve efficiency, and...

Tackling the Tech Shortage: Lessons in Recruiting Talent and Reducing Turnover

Discover innovative strategies for recruiting and retaining tech talent in the trucking industry during this informative webinar, where experts will share insights on competitive...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!