Up until now, commercial truck drivers who had to keep logs of their hours on- and off-duty may not have had to be so concerned about whether the Hours of Servcice (HOS) regulations actually are workable —paper logs allowed some wiggle. That's the reality. But with full enforcement about to begin April 1 with ELDs, that's gone, and some drivers are saying they need more flexibility or it could threaten their businesses.
That was the gist of the conversation during an extended listening session with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) leaders and truck drivers, many of them owner-operators, at the Mid-America Trucking Show.
"I can't change laws — I'm not Congress," said Ray Martinez, administrator of FMCSA, noting that ELDs have come about at the direction of the federal government and congressional action. "But I may be able to make changes to regulations if they're outdated or if they don't make sense," he added.
Martinez is no stranger to being the head of an organization that's not the most popular with its clients — he comes from leading motor vehicle departments in New York and New Jersey. "I'm used to not being the most favorite person in the room," he ceded.
However, Martinez also noted he "tried to bring some common sense to the operations" in the states' motor vehicle departments, "and that's the same thing I want to do with you."
This article isn't going to chronicle the lengthy discussion that took place. This is a resource for truck drivers, trucking companies and fleets: If you're having problems operating under the Hours of Service rules, tell us about it and tell us how you think it could be fixed.
Why? Because Martinez, along with Joe DeLorenzo, director of FMCSA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement, noted at the listening session that they can't talk to every driver and truck owner. They said they have in part heard from organizations like the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) because the groups "amplify the voices" of their members and drivers about what's happening in the industry.
They also specifically asked about what could be done. Hearing one driver's complaints about HOS rules, DeLorenzo asked, "So what's the suggestion? If you had to write it today, what would it be?"
Send your suggestions to Fleet Owner, and we'll compile and publish input about what would help fix what's been identified as inflexibility within the HOS regulations. You can also email or chat with FMCSA or call the agency at 800-832-5600, but again, FMCSA has only so many resources, and one voice at a time — one pebble thrown into the lake — may not send large enough ripples.
Owner-operators and smaller trucking companies at the listening session said they're having the most trouble with ELD enforcement. They suggested they don't have the scale to operate as the HOS rules dictate and absorb inefficiencies created by the realities of doing business.
Based on their comments, for example, driving on America's roads today means that plenty of things can snarl a truck driver's plans to get where he or she needs to go within the time they're legally allowed to do it.
Collisions, weather, volume-based congestion and more can bring highways to a halt. It can take an inordinate amount of time for truck drivers to find safe parking, and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and FMCSA acknowledge that problem. Shippers often keep drivers waiting for hours to pick up a load, both drivers and carriers report, and then may not allow a driver to stay on their property.
And if a driver is held up for those or other reasons — often out of the driver's control — the driver's clock is still ticking when it comes to hours of service. The 14-hour rule within the HOS regulations was the most targeted "problem" with HOS regulations that commenters focused on in the listening session.
Specifically for property-carrying drivers, the "14-Hour Limit" rule states that drivers "may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty," and that "off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period."
Holding shippers' feet to the fire
FMCSA's DeLorenzo noted there is in fact something the agency can do about shippers that hold up or "detain" a truck driver and thus make it harder — or impossible — for the driver to then operate legally within the HOS requirements. FMCSA can investigate and fine them.
"We have some enforcement authority over a shipper that causes an Hours of Service violation or some other violation of the regs," DeLorenzo said. "Everybody's been really focused on ELDs and ELD implementation, but maybe we haven't focused enough on the implementation of that authority." The driver or carrier must file a complaint, however.
Drivers and motor carriers can file a complaint with FMCSA online or call 888-DOT-SAFT (888-368-7238) to file a complaint by phone.
One commenter at the listening session, a dispatcher at a trucking company in upstate New York, gave this example: "My truck driver was at [a shipper]. I called the broker and I called [the shipper] twice to make sure that if my driver sat for more than two hours or went past his time that he would have a safe haven to park right there.
"Nobody could give us an answer; the broker couldn't give us an answer," the commenter said. "My driver sat there six hours and was told to leave. What are we supposed to do?"
DeLorenzo said FMCSA can't do anything right then and there, "but if we find out about it and they have violated that part of the regulations [i.e., forced a driver to violate HOS rules], we have the authority as an agency to address it from an enforcement perspective. It's the same thing that can happen with anybody: We can go out to them, investigate it, and fine them for that."
FMCSA Administrator Martinez also acknowledged the driver detention problem. "If you're stuck waiting to load for two or three hours, well, guess what — that's not good for you. Somebody's picking your pocket, and it's not good for safety," he said. He noted that in a broader sense, it also creates an impediment to the economy.
Whatever your opinion of electronic logging devices, Martinez pointed out that data from ELDs may serve as evidence of driver detention. "If ELDs help to spotlight that there's inequity here, maybe we can use it to our advantage," he said.