Hours of Service Changes Will Hurt

June 1, 2000
GOVERNMENT bureaucrats have a knack for writing unwieldy, overly burdensome regulations. However, the folks at the newly formed Federal Motor Carrier

GOVERNMENT bureaucrats have a knack for writing unwieldy, overly burdensome regulations. However, the folks at the newly formed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) outdid themselves with the long-awaited overhaul of the hours-of-service regulations.

The resulting proposal brought strong outcry from virtually every sector, both pro- and anti-truck. Critics charged that the FMCSA proposal fails to satisfy safety concerns, raises serious enforcement questions, threatens to disrupt the economy, and promises to reduce trucking productivity.

That's quite a feat for a regulatory rewrite that the Clinton-Gore Administration claims is designed to simplify hours of service and increase safety on our nation's highways. The objective is to ensure that truck and bus drivers have enough rest so they can drive safely.

Among the main points of the hours-of-service proposal are five new categories of truck and bus drivers: longhaul, regional, local-splitshift, local, and incidental. The first four categories would be limited to no more than 12 hours of driving in a 14-hour period. Incidental drivers, for whom truck driving is not their primary function, could drive 13 hours in a 15-hour period.

Longhaul and regional drivers must have a minimum of 10 consecutive hours offduty every day. The only exception is that team drivers can take their rest in two segments of five hours apiece. Local-splitshift and incidental drivers must get nine consecutive hours of rest, and local drivers must have 12 hours.

Incidental drivers can work up to 75 hours in seven days. With few exceptions, the other four types are limited to 60 hours total. The exception is longhaul drivers on the road for two or more weeks. They can average 120 hours over 14 days. A mandatory "weekend" will consist of 32 to 56 consecutive hours off-duty every seven days, with two nights from midnight to 6 am.

Today's logbooks no longer would be required. However, FMCSA would mandate computerized electronic recording devices on trucks operated by longhaul and regional drivers. Some form of time-work records would be required for the other categories but could be maintained by either the driver or the employer.

FMCSA estimates that implementation of the new rule would cost the trucking industry about $3.4 billion over the next 10 years. The agency also estimates that no more than 49,000 new drivers would be needed to regain the miles lost to reduced driving times.

At the same time, FMCSA is calculating the benefits of the hours-of-service overhaul at $6.8 billion over 10 years. The savings are expected to come from a variety of factors such as lower insurance rates and health-care costs as a result of reduced crashes, fatalities, and injuries. FMCSA estimates that 755 fatalities and 19,705 injuries occur annually because of fatigued drivers.

It would appear that the FMCSA estimates are far too optimistic. Instead of making US roads and freeways safer, the hours-of-service overhaul may do just the opposite by putting thousands more trucks on the road.

The reality is that the rules, as proposed, will require 20% to 30% more drivers just to handle existing freight movements. According to officials at the American Trucking Associations, the industry would have to put at least 100,000 more trucks and drivers on the road-just to keep up with current shipping needs. That doesn't even count the 80,000-driver shortfall that currently exists.

Preliminary estimates suggest that the tank truck sector alone will need almost 10,000 new drivers to comply with the changes in the hours-of-service rules. The industry also will have to purchase around 9,200 more tractors and 10,000 more tank trailers. Total cost impact will be around $1.8 billion.

Even with more drivers and equipment, the trucking industry will be hard pressed to cope with adverse traffic and weather and delays at customer facilities. In addition, all of the new tractors and trailers will significantly boost congestion on this country's already-clogged freeways and roads.

Even worse is the appalling shortage of safe rest areas to accommodate not just the current truck driver population but also the new drivers who will be required. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a report warning about the safety hazards posed by the shortage of public reststop spaces available for the existing number of trucks and drivers on the road today. The NTSB report called into question the wisdom of the Transportation Department in forging ahead with rules that would only exacerbate the shortage.

These factors virtually ensure that the proposed rules would destroy the just-in-time delivery system that is critical to industry management of inventories and the heart of today's click-and-ship economy. They would virtually erase all of the productivity gains that were achieved at great effort and cost in recent years.

Hours-of-service reform is needed, but the FMCSA proposal falls short on all accounts. This proposal will not bring greater safety. It will deliver only gridlock-on the freeways and at the loading racks.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.