The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Hours of Service (HOS) regulations are flawed, say many truck drivers, dispatchers and fleet managers, because the rules don't allow the flexibility that trucking in its many forms requires. Yet there are starkly common themes in what's called out as the problem.
By far, the most injurious element of the HOS regulations cited is the 14-hour limit rule. That's the one that starts an unwavering clock ticking down once a driver comes on duty — the driver cannot operate the commercial vehicle past the 14th hour after he or she came on duty and has a limit of 11 hours of actual driving time within that period.
After Fleet Owner published an article seeking input from fleets and drivers, echoing FMCSA's own calls for suggestions about any problems with the HOS regulations and how to fix them, nearly every single response we received said something has got to give with the 14-hour rule.
"I agree that the ELD [electronic logging device] mandate will make truckers more responsible. But a change to the 14-hour rule will be needed. That is the only complaint that I hear from my drivers," said one Texas fleet manager.
"In 30 years and 4 million miles of safe driving, I've never seen anything make our industry as dangerous as the 14-hour rule," a truck driver argued in his response. The reason for that, he claimed, is the 14-hour limit often leaves drivers racing against the clock in a variety of situations.
Those comments were echoed by many others — and a good number of those, notably, were drivers claiming long histories of safe driving, like the trucker above. They said the problem is that too many things beyond drivers' control in the day-to-day realities of U.S. commercial trucking cause delays, but still that 14-hour clock ticks down.
Those things they cited would surprise no one familiar with trucking. They pointed most often to traffic jams, weather-related slowdowns, the time it takes to find safe parking or refuel, and being held up at shippers and receivers waiting to load or unload. They said drivers are having to cut their days short to get to a safe spot, hurting their profitability.
"The number-one thing that I find I run out of in my daily on-duty time is the [available] hours of service due to traffic, inclement weather — I always go over the 14-hour rule," one driver said.
Another had this to say: "When we have to wait for the receiver to unload the trailer, they take a long time — like four to five hours. That's time we lose to drive. So now you have a problem: you will be in violation for driving [beyond the 14-hour limit] to find somewhere to park.
"We should not be penalized to go find the closest and safest place to park and get the 10 hours [of off-duty time] we need," the driver continued.
Still another blamed shippers and receivers outright for questionable practices that contribute to these problems. "We need hard lines drawn with detention time pay rates," he stated. "These shippers and receivers take advantage of us. They order/ schedule more loads than are possible to load or unload, and trucks are sidelined and left sitting as 'onsite storage' until they make time or room for our loads."
And to sum up their suggestions to fix all this, at least initially, the responders to Fleet Owner said the 14-hour limit must be lengthened or needs, essentially, a pause button in delay instances such as those described above. Meanwhile, most said the 11-hour drive time limit should be kept as-is.
More flexibility in off-duty time
Beyond the derision for the 14-hour limit rule, the next most common item in responses was a call for flexibility in off-duty time.
"Give back the split-sleeper rule," urged one driver in his comments. "Have a 10-hour off-duty rule to restart the 11-hour driving time, and allow the off-duty time to be split into at least three parts," suggested a fleet manager.
"We need a split sleeper berth," another driver stated. "The sleeper split should be 5 and 3 or 8 hours consecutive. 10 hours is too much time off. No one in the real world sleeps like that."
Comments focused on the stretch of time needed to reset the operator's 11-hour drive time limit, but some also said 30-minute breaks during on-duty time need more flexibility.
One local/ regional driver said it would be better to allow a 30-minute break to be split into two 15-minute breaks.
"Seems to me it makes more sense to stop a couple of times in an 8-hour period for a restroom break and a cup of coffee and sandwich than to work 7 hours straight before a break," he stated. "I don't need 30 minutes straight to take care of these things and end up staring at the clock ticking off for 15 minutes."
In general, a number of commenters pointed to something else that's widely known and acknowledged by those in the "industry": commercial trucking in the United States isn't one industry, but rather is a host of sub-industries and many business nuances within them.
The punch line was that the HOS rules contain a single construct that doesn't fit certain trucking duty cycles well at all. "My company runs heavy haul and oilfield; using over-the-road rules in these two markets is asinine. We're specialized and need rules that correspond to our industries," a driver stated.
Do it now
With these responses — no doubt similar to many that FMCSA has received — came an urgent call to adjust the HOS regulations in some way to address these difficulties drivers face "yesterday."
Amid the clamor that has surrounded ELDs, which FMCSA officials, ELD makers and others have noted is more a vote against the HOS rules, the next thing often said is that ELD data may help truck drivers and trucking companies as evidence of problems such as detention delays at shippers and receivers.
The message Fleet Owner got in that regard is that the time it'll take for that data to bring change could cause a great deal of damage — although perhaps most to owner-operators and smaller trucking companies, shifting business to larger firms.
"The problem is getting the flexibility [in HOS rules] changed before the bank takes their trucks back," one commenter said of his drivers. "This 'fix' has to happen now."
Got more to say? Click here to share your thoughts.