Life on the Road
As the HOS Saga Turns
The outcome of the hours-of-service saga, seemingly the longest running soap opera in history, dates back more than 60 years when the feds first produced a set of rules to govern how long commercial drivers could operate a truck before they have to take a mandatory stop to rest and recuperate. The Federal Mo-tor Carrier Safety Admin-istration (FMCSA) has until Sept. 30 to revise the current hours-of-service rules, which were introduced in January 2003. The HOS revision, the first significant change to the standards set back in the 1930s, will no doubt affect the trucking industry for years to come.
“This is the single most important rule governing how a truck company operates and how a truck driver operates,” says Timothy P. Lynch, president and CEO of the Motor Freight Carriers Association. “For us to go through a three-year period where we have one rule, then we have another rule, and then we have this uncertainty period, and then potentially something else on Sept. 30—that’s a lot to ask for an industry to have to figure out.”
Truckers are concerned that the revised rules may have an adverse effect by taking away a driver’s discretion. They say that using their common sense and listening to their bodies is what prevents fatigue-related accidents. Some worry that rigid laws could mean drivers actually get less rest, not more; others are concerned that drivers’ shifts could be shortened, exacerbating problems for an industry plagued by a driver shortage and high fuel and insurance costs.
“In all honesty, I can drive at least 15 hours a day without any type of fatigue,” says 56-year-old Robert MacNeil of Holliston, MA. “I was a driver trainer at one time, and I had students who couldn’t drive for four hours at a time before they were ready for the sleeper. I think it’s a personal thing. Some guys can run longer than others.”
Sidney White, 59, of Cartersville, GA, admits he’s confused by the current rules. “I think you ought to be able to get load-ed, drive for five hours, take two hours off, and then drive another six or seven hours,” he says. “The way that it is set up, though, it’s hard to do that.”
The FMCSA is “reviewing and reconsidering” the existing hours-of-service rules and is requesting public comments. The agency is asking carriers to answer these specific questions, among others:
• How have the current HOS regulations impacted “quality of life” for drivers?
• Compared to the old HOS rules, have the new rules been beneficial or adverse when it comes to sleep deprivation or other health issues?
• To what extent does an increase in driv- ing time (10 hours to 11 hours) affect driver health and safety, along with other economic factors?
Source: FMCSA, Roemer Report