In one form or another, hours of service rules will change. Let's make them work.
Initial reactions to the Dept. of Transportation's (DOT) hours-of-service proposal were, to say the least, quite negative. Some fleet managers voiced concern about how and where they'd get all the new drivers and power units they'd need to keep freight moving while their regular drivers were busy meeting the increased off-duty and rest requirements. Others called the mandatory use of onboard recorders an invasion of privacy.
And members of the safety extremist community (CRASH, AHAS, and PATT), on the other hand, decried the increased driving time allowed under the proposed rules.
Several trucking executives confided privately that some things in the rule would improve the quality of life for their drivers. Yet no industry spokesperson made a positive public statement about the proposal.
Why not? Why are we so hesitant to embrace the changes contained in the proposal?
I know what you're thinking. This guy is just another columnist who has completely lost touch with reality. Or maybe he's never even seen the inside of a truck cab.
Quite the contrary. I've logged over a million miles under the current set of rules. And I'll admit that while on long trips, I used to push the rules to the maximum by logging multiple 10-hour on-duty shifts, followed by just 8 hours off-duty.
That 18-hour duty cycle played havoc on my body clock, so it's really no surprise that I'm in favor of the proposed 24-hour duty cycle and increased rest time.
Granted, the proposed rule is not without controversy. And with controversy comes public outcry.
In force since the late 1930s, the current hours-of-service regulations have spanned several generations. Many drivers and fleet managers have been influenced by their fathers and grandfathers. Their ideas about how to operate trucks and manage work schedules have become a way of life, which makes them nearly impossible to change.
But make no doubt about it. Hours-of-service reform is here to stay.
I urge you to look closely at the proposed rule and identify which elements would be workable - and maybe even beneficial. Next, figure out which parts would be workable, yet mean significant changes in your operation. Finally, identify those elements that would be devastating if enacted in their present form.
As you go through this exercise, keep in mind that everyone in the industry will be similarly affected.
After doing this kind of straightforward analysis, you'll be ready to submit your comments to DOT. Make sure you identify both positive and negative aspects of the proposal, and support your comments with facts and figures. And don't be shy about making suggestions.
Why is your opinion so important? In the first place, this rule will probably have a more significant impact on the motor carrier industry than anything you'll encounter in your career.
Second, comments will be vetted by DOT during public hearings. If feedback focuses only on the negative, you won't have as much input about how things are changed. The agency will have only its own ideas and instincts when developing the final rule.
We must take charge and demonstrate to DOT and the American public that we do embrace hours-of-service reform - and are willing to be flexible in the expeditious enactment of new rules.
[Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance, based in Fredricksburg, Va.]