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Heller: Is there a better way to govern HOS?

June 26, 2023
With interruptions so common in an industry that follows a time-based schedule, hours-of-service rules are like putting a circle where a square should be—it just doesn’t make sense. ELD data shows that drivers need more flexibility.

We have all been there, that moment in time, when you bite your tongue, hoping to hold back the phrase “I told you so.” That often describes the interactions with my son and the temptation to use this very phrase. As parents, of course, we hope our kids learn from their mistakes and refrain from using that phrase to make a point as we catch ourselves sounding like our own parents.

That said, the same thought popped into my head when Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials, in a report to Congress regarding electronic logging devices, revealed that they were unable to determine the safety impacts of ELDs. Lucky for me, I have a column at my disposal to explain exactly how this works, rather than just stand at my bully pulpit and say, “I told you so.”

ELDs are used to track adherence to hours-of-service regulations. They are tools, in their most basic form, that measure compliance with regulations that are supposed to make an impact on safety, which is why ELDs were promulgated in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, ELDs have proven to be important to the trucking industry because they have led to a flood of data used now to precisely define what the day of a professional truck driver looks like. ELDs, paired with telematics and cameras, now can provide a litany of data and footage that will aid in making safer drivers.

See also: FMCSA revokes fourth ELD of 2023

When first proposed as a mandate, it was estimated that ELDs would save about 20 lives annually. Tracking that statistic has proven to be difficult, to say the least. Based on an oversight report submitted to Congress that cited the new HOS rules, COVID-based ELD exemptions and the implementation of the federal Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse muddied those waters in determining the actual number of lives saved. The reality is that the tool was developed to comply with a rule that is supposed to help save lives, so maybe we are asking the wrong question.

Trucking is fraught with safety-sensitive issues that can be solved with the flexibility to adjust for every different day and scenario. A driver’s 24-hour period is not ever the same, day in and day out. There’s detention time, congestion, and truck parking. This is not a call for more hours for drivers to complete their daily tasks. It’s an opportunity to breathe some flexibility into an hours-of-service rule that could create time for drivers to adjust to the daily disruptions encountered on a daily basis. ELDs are the tools used to monitor all these interruptions.

See also: Wading into the weeds of CSA 2.0

Drivers definitely lose time searching for safe and secure truck parking. And after having driven nine or 10 hours, should they stay in compliance with HOS rules or risk a fine for illegal parking? Flexibility could be provided for that driver so that their day is split in 6/4 or 5/5 increments rather than the 7/3 that currently exists.

With interruptions so common in an industry that follows a time-based schedule, the prescribed HOS rules are like putting a circle where a square should be—it just doesn’t make sense. Rather than reviewing the tool itself, Congress should review the rule that requires the need for the tool. Is there actually a better way to do this, without providing longer days for an industry that averages 6.5 hours (ELD data shows that) of drive time in the first place? The answer is yes. Our regulators just need to dive in and create some flexibility for our industry.

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs at 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.

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.

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