Time to plan for HOS implementation

Sept. 27, 2003
Carriers and shippers should start planning now to address the new hours-of-service regulations scheduled to go into effect January 4, 2004, says Cliff

Carriers and shippers should start planning now to address the new hours-of-service regulations scheduled to go into effect January 4, 2004, says Cliff Harvison, National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) president. He predicts that the new Department of Transportation (DOT) rules will reduce overall tank truck productivity and increase carrier operating costs.

"There are not easy answers for ways to mitigate those costs," says Harvison. "But there may be creative solutions."

He urges carriers and shippers to develop plans aimed at preserving driving hours by saving minutes in waiting, loading, unloading, and sampling.

"Shippers and carriers may well consider alternatives such as pre-loading, expanded loading and unloading hours, 'pedal' drivers, and driver relays," Harvison says. "These are expensive alternatives, and their implementation involves a judgment call, balancing additional costs and the desire to retain existing service levels. Such planning must take into consideration the fact that any loss in driver productivity will be matched by an equivalent loss in trailer utilization and inventory."

DOT has adopted the 24-hour clock as the basis for calculating the total number of hours worked in a given day. Within any given 24-hour period a truck driver may accumulate no more than 14 hours uninterrupted on-duty time, and he/she may spend no more than 11 hours actually driving the vehicle. Thus, that same driver must be given no less than 10 hours uninterrupted hours off duty, and has three hours (during the on-duty status) for activities such as loading, unloading, eating, attending to personal necessities, etc.

"The key to understanding why many tank truck drivers will lose productivity is the word 'uninterrupted,'" says Harvison. "Once a driver begins a period in on-duty status, that status continues for 14 straight hours. In other words, activities such as waiting time, loading, unloading, waiting for samples, eating, or attending to personal necessities are to be logged as on-duty time. There are no exceptions.

"Additionally, once a driver goes in an off-duty status, whether or not the full 14-hour cycle has been completed, that driver may not return to on duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. Again, there are no exceptions."

Application of the new regulations to sleeper berth operations is somewhat different, but adheres to the same 24-hour clock and requires a minimum 10-hour rest period.

The revised rules specify that a driver with a sleeper berth may extend the 14-hour day, but only under the conditions that the driver takes no more than two breaks in the sleeper berth and that one of those breaks be no less than two hours.

The minimum 10 hours off duty principles have been preserved in the sleeper berth regulations. These drivers must also count time for loading, unloading, sampling, etc, as on-duty hours. If they sign off duty, they must enter the sleeper berth and can perform no other work-related functions.

"DOT chose not to amend the so-called weekly limits contained in current regulations," Harvison says. "Those limits say that a driver may not accumulate on-duty hours more than 60 in seven days and 70 in eight days. However, the new regulations do incorporate one new and rather unique provision. If a driver accumulates a total of 34 consecutive hours in an off duty status, that driver may begin a new 60/70-hour weekly cycle at that point.

"We anticipate that this provision will provide limited flexibility to tank truck carriers involved in seasonal movements such as fertilizers, anhydrous ammonia, etc. Additionally, drivers who sign off duty may utilize those hours to extend their 60/70-hour weekly limit. However