HOS conundrum: Dents productivity but no safety gain

Oct. 25, 2013
Shipments have slipped over 3% for Schneider National

Many, if not all, trucking stakeholders feared that motor carriers would suffer a decline in productivity yet not benefit from a rise in safety once the current Hours of Service (HOS) regulations went into effect back on July 1st.

This conundrum— being forced to be less productive while not gaining from any safety dividend—was the crux of trucking’s well-organized efforts to thwart the new HOS rule from being implementation.

With that battle now over, carriers can only move forward to do the best they can to mitigate the negative impact of this safety-oriented regulation.

But that is a tall order. Operations personnel must now constantly work around the HOS rule’s key constrictions:

  • Maximum average work hours per week that’s been cut from 82 to just 70 hours
  • Weekly “reset” only if driver rests for 34 consecutive hours-- including  a minimum of two nights of sleep that occurs specifically from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.
  • Mandatory 30-min. rest break during first eight hours on duty

Rick Schweitzer, general counsel for the National Private Truck Council (NPTC) told FleetOwner  private fleets are feeling HOS’ operational pinch right along with for-hire operations.

He advised that a recent NPTC survey of its members on the overall impact of the new regs found that of  ten respondents, nine fleets reported being adversely affected by the 34-hour reset; six said that they’re were now paying drivers for rest breaks; and eight stated that productivity had declined for their operations.

Truckload/logistics giant Schneider National this week commented extensively on this sad state of affairs for carriers—which nearly three years ago it saw coming.

According to Schneider, while some may have sought a crystal ball to predict the upshot of the July 1st HOS changes, back in early 2011 it used predictive modeling to scientifically forecast the impact.

In testimony Schneider provided to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in February 2011, it predicted it would take a productivity hit of 3.0 to 4.0% if the rulemaking went into effect unaltered.

 And now Schneider reports “similar” actual results. Since July’s HOS implementation, the company has incurred a 3.1% drop in solos shipments along with a 4.3% decline in team shipments.  

"The HOS changes could not have come at a worse time," remakred Dave Geyer, senior vp/gm of Schneider's Van Truckload division. "We now need more drivers to do the same amount of work, but regulations, economic conditions and demographics are working against us in terms of recruiting new drivers.

“Those [drivers] who do answer the call deserve an attractive wage and good benefits, but we're being restricted in the number of miles we can give them and the ongoing challenges that come with sharply rising operating costs."

What’s more, Geyer says the productivity hit has not been offset in the least by any uptick in safety performance— which of course was the stated goal of FMCSA for revising the HOS rule.

"Operating safely continues to be core to how we do business," he explained. “Safety performance dramatically improved under the previous HOS rules and there is no evidence to support that changing the rules has improved safety.

“Ongoing feedback from our drivers is consistent: they do not feel better rested as a result of the rules change-- just less productive,” Geyer added.

According to Geyer, what’s happened with HOS is accelerating the trend toward drivers deciding “the lure and independence of the open road are no longer worth the pay and regulatory pressure they are now facing. Driver turnover is trending up and is back at pre-recession levels.”

He also pointed to how it’s not just carriers and drivers being impacted. Geyer said “many shippers are indicating that carriers across the industry-- as well as their own private fleets--are already experiencing productivity and on-time service declines.

"To put it in the simplest of terms, capacity continues to tighten,” he added, “productivity has been reduced and it's harder--- and more costly-- than ever to acquire and retain drivers. This trifecta is a cost burden that carriers cannot bear alone."


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