Trucking industry representatives and drivers shared their support and concerns about the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal to change some hours-of-service rules during a listening session at the Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, DC, on Sept. 17.
The proposal, announced earlier this summer, would allow drivers more flexibility with their 30-minute rest break and dividing time in their sleeper berth. Also, drivers would be able to extend their duty time by two hours when encountering adverse conditions on the road. The shorthaul exemption would also be increase drivers’ maximum on-duty time from 12 to 14 hours and increase those drivers’ operation area from 100 to 150 air miles.
Comments during the two-hour session ranged from support from drivers for more flexibility to concerns from safety advocates about that relaxed rules would lead to more fatigue for drivers and make highways less safe. Another recurring theme among the speakers was that drivers continue to be held at the whims of shippers and dispatchers.
Andrea Marks, director of communications for Trucker Nation, said that her “organization has remained steadfast since the beginning of this rulemaking process that coercion stands to be a significant risk if the agency does not afford explicit driver protections in the final regulatory text.”
Citing a Trucker Nation poll of drivers, Marks said coercion by dispatchers is a bigger problem than the FMCSA knows. The poll, she said, found that 80% of drivers said they were coerced but did not report it.
“Without language in the final regulatory text explicitly stating that the use of the proposed provisions are at the driver’s discretion, leaves a wide-open door for coercion,” Marks said.
Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, hopes the changes do not mean more driving time -- just more flexibility and more efficiency. “For far too long, a driver’s time has been worth nothing,” he told the panel. “Especially to shippers and receivers and large motor carriers. This needs to change.”
The former driver praised the FMCSA for considering the HOS revisions. “Drivers need flexibility -- not only to help make their deliveries and their pickups but to deal with many unforeseen obstacles that they deal with on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “These changes will also improve a driver’s health and well-being because it lessens the beat-the-clock mentality that seems to be shoved down on their shoulders now.”
Other current drivers who spoke in D.C. on Tuesday also pointed the fingers at shippers and receivers for disregarding drivers’ time and encouraged those against more flexibility to get in a truck and see what it actually like on the road -- versus just focusing on theories and studies.
Susan Raczynski of ELD-manufacturer EROAD told the FMCSA that companies such as hers will need at least six months to update electronic logging device software to match new HOS rules.
“Minimum six months but a year would be fantastic,” she said. “Because we are in business and are developing other products and doing other features and things like that. So this would be something would take a good chunk of our development time.”
More than 1,100 comments have already been filed in response to the proposed rule changes. The FMCSA is seeking public comments on the proposal through Oct. 21, which is an extended deadline to accommodate requests from American Trucking Associations and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.