Tank Truck Industry Sets Alarm For New Hours-of-Service Talks

June 1, 1999
THE ISSUE: how to develop appropriate changes in the Department of Transportation (DOT) hours-of-service regulations. That's one of the topics being discussed

THE ISSUE: how to develop appropriate changes in the Department of Transportation (DOT) hours-of-service regulations. That's one of the topics being discussed by Washington officials that has carriers sitting up and taking notice.

Cliff Harvison, president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) said, "In many respects, the trucking industry is in a no-win situation. On the one hand, the nation's shippers are demanding more and more service in terms of just-in-time deliveries and service windows.

"On the other hand, so-called public interest groups such as Mothers Against Tired Truckers, and others, are capitalizing on some high-profile truck accidents. They are pressing for changes generally aimed at reducing available driving hours."

Harvison made the comments at the NTTC Safety Council Seminar April 12-14 in St Petersburg, Florida.

For the past two years, NTTC has been part of an industrywide coalition looking at today's regulations in the light of needed changes. The group has reached general consensus on some concepts to be included in future DOT rules, Harvison said. For instance, the driver's day should be based on a 24-hour clock, which would include no differentiation between on-duty driving and on-duty not driving. The coalition is reviewing a consideration for 14 hours on duty and 10 hours off duty.

Moreover, the trucking industry is considering a proposal wherein after 70 hours the driver would have to be relieved from duty for a period of time that would allow two consecutive sleep cycles at night. "I want to stress that these were proposed concepts only," Harvison added.

Nighttime Driving Nighttime driving (midnight to 6 am) has drawn complaints from several critics of the trucking industry. "They want that activity curtailed," he said.

The tank truck industry is highly dependent on available nighttime hours for all types of deliveries. Carrier safety directors believe that night driving benefits the properly trained driver, because there is less traffic congestion, which translates to greater safety, Harvison said.

Brian McLaughlin, chief of the state programs division with the Office of Motor Carriers, Department of Transportation (DOT), pointed out that drivers often are able to escape the current hours-of-service rule without penalty, which also prevents the carrier from identifying who are violators. "It's something we're going to have to address," McLaughlin said.

James Scapellato of The Scapellato Group, Charleston, South Carolina, said hours of service are always problematic. Writing a rule is impossible without a data-based proposal, said Scapellato, a retired DOT official. Since the data is not available, the industry can expect Congress to write the legislation.

McLaughlin noted that the nature of the regulatory process is to reconcile as many different viewpoints on various rules as possible, while still making appropriate decisions on issues. "You don't have to be reasonable when you are an advocate," he said. "If we are to get anything done, we have to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate, indeed, has the right to participate."

However, he added, more flexible isn't necessarily less complicated. The regulatory process takes into consideration advocates with diverse viewpoints and regulators who write compromises. "We try very hard not to be pointy-headed bureaucrats sitting in Washington creating regulations that give you heartburn," he said.

Increased Enforcement McLaughlin said recent DOT reorganization will result in increased enforcement with the "worst of the worst" safety violators being targeted. "We will do compliance reviews." Carriers who have had complaints made against them can expect to be reviewed. A definition for "unfit" carrier is being developed and should be completed by this summer. Other actions prompted by the reorganization include plans to expand the use of technology, including global positioning devices (satellite tracking).

Carriers can anticipate more emphasis on driver training. DOT officials have determined that driver error is more likely to contribute to accidents than vehicle mechanical failures. "I think much benefit can be derived by focusing on the drivers," McLaughlin said. "We can identify problem drivers and train them to improve - or get them off the road."

Another driver issue involves excessive speed citations that are reduced through plea bargaining to less serious charges. Some states do not require speeding convictions to be filed on driver records. DOT is conducting studies to find out where the plea bargaining is occurring. "Risk-taking drivers" should be identified and ordered to have a limited driver license, he said.

At the same time, he said that the DOT enforcement budget has been cut. Enforcement responsibility will be passed on to the states. Congress authorized DOT to use third-party companies for reviews and inspections, but a study has to be conducted before the third-party program can be authorized. A report is expected to be presented to Congress by spring 2000.

Harvison noted that organized labor has long sought greater Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) influence, particularly in terms of truck safety and health issues.

"There is now a strong alliance between officials at DOT and OSHA to bring more pressure to bear on the trucking industry," he said. "No one in the tank truck industry wants our drivers to be jeopardized in any way. However, the reality is that OSHA rules do not preempt those of any state. Thus, it is entirely possible for a vehicle and driver to be in compliance with OSHA rules in one state and then be in violation after crossing into the neighboring state. Tank truck companies can't comply under those conditions."

NTTC will support a concept whereby OSHA and DOT meet and consult with industry on any needed regulations. "But," Harvison said, "any final rules must be published and enforced by DOT."