Not really a final rule

Two months ago, the trucking industry received the long-anticipated hours-of-service final rule just days before the Christmas holiday; however, the jury is still out on whether the rule amounts to a stocking full of coal or the proverbial socks and underwear. Sure, they are useful but not really what you wanted.

As you read this column on the eve of the first implementation date, I am sure that the rule hangs in just as much limbo as it did when it was first announced. Criticized by virtually every trucking-related organization, the final rule didn't make anyone happy and continues to be a topic of discussion on what happens next. Unfortunately, my regulatory crystal ball does not seem to work that far into the future.

First, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) left the door open for it to further investigate the 10-hour driving limit rather than shut the door completely and stay with 11 hours of driving. Obviously, many organizations were hoping for the reduction in hours, citing increased fatigue for drivers that operate into the 11th hour. Speaking on behalf of the trucking industry, retaining that 11th hour of driving time is crucial to operations and oftentimes allows the driver the opportunity to seek out suitable and safe parking during his or her downtime.

Second, with the dust settling on the minimum 34-hour restart, carrier concerns are growing over possible increased congestion and increased lack of drivers who pick up and deliver during the nighttime hours. As the agency tries to mandate sleep, which eventually some will discover you cannot regulate, the driver shortage may grow because of restart hours that consist of two consecutive nights of between 1 and 5 a.m. While the industry hopes that the minimum restart provision will not lead to a decreased availability of drivers, that exact thought is echoing in the minds of the people who would have to deal with that reality on a daily basis.

Only time will tell what the future of this rulemaking will be as those involved have continued to voice their displeasure over a rulemaking that may or may not affect the health of a driver. Certainly, interested parties are investigating their legal options in an effort to further muddy the waters of this rulemaking. As congressional leaders observe at the 10,000 ft. level, carriers have now begun implementing the new rule and are certain to have experienced the shortcomings and changes that have affected their fleets, even if on a limited basis.

Generally speaking, everyone learns from the past. And if the past is any indication, this new rule regarding hours of service is certain to be classified as yet another “old” new rule that will ultimately lead to another rulemaking regarding this very issue.

In other words, I would be surprised if we have heard the last on this issue. This will inevitably lead to yet another visit to the Court of Appeals as safety advocate groups and industry alike act on the changes brought about by this new rule.

David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].

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