For many tank truck fleets, new HOS rules could have been worse

Jan. 3, 2012
All things considered, many tank truck fleets probably fared reasonably well with the revised hours-of-service rule that was announced December 22, 2011

All things considered, many tank truck fleets probably fared reasonably well with the revised hours-of-service rule that was announced December 22, 2011. It could have been much worse.

Scheduled to take effect July 1, 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) final rule retains the current 11-hour daily driving limit, but reduces by 12 hours the maximum number of hours a truck driver can work within a week.

“This final rule is the culmination of the most extensive and transparent public outreach effort in our agency’s history,” says Anne S Ferro, FMCSA administrator. “With robust input from all areas of the trucking community, coupled with the latest scientific research, we carefully crafted a rule acknowledging that when truckers are rested, alert, and focused on safety, it makes our roadways safer.”

However, trucking industry leaders quickly countered that the new hours-of-service rule would do little or nothing to improve highway safety. It may even increase the risk of truck-involved crashes.

“This announcement of a new rule on the hours-of-service is completely unsurprising,” American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves says. “What is surprising and new to us is that for the first time in the agency’s history, FMCSA has chosen to eschew a stream of positive safety data and cave in to a vocal anti-truck minority and issue a rule that will have no positive impact on safety. From the beginning of this process in October 2009, the agency set itself on a course to fix a rule that’s not only not broken, but by all objective accounts is working to improve highway safety. Unfortunately, along the way, FMCSA twisted data and, as part of this final rule, is using unjustified causal estimates to justify unnecessary changes.”

Adds ATA Chairman Dan England, chairman of C R England: “Even with an uptick in truck-involved fatalities in 2010, since the current rules went into effect in 2004, fatalities have fallen 29.9%, even as overall miles traveled for trucks has risen by tens of billions of miles. No one can dispute these facts.

“By forcing through these changes FMCSA has created a situation that will ultimately please no one, with the likely exception of organized labor. Both the trucking industry and consumers will suffer the impact of reduced productivity and higher costs. Also, groups that have historically been critical of the current hours of service rules won’t be happy since they will have once again failed to obtain an unjustified reduction in allowable daily driving time. Further, it is entirely possible that these changes may actually increase truck-involved crashes by forcing trucks to have more interaction with passenger vehicles and increasing the risk to all drivers.”

“This rule will put more truck traffic onto the roadways during morning rush hour, frustrate other motorists and increase the risk of crashes,” Graves said. “By mandating drivers include two periods between 1 am and 5 am as part of a 'restart' period, FMCSA is assuring that every day as America is commuting to work, thousands of truck drivers will be joining them, creating additional and unnecessary congestion and putting motorists and those professional drivers at greater risk. The largest percentage of truck-involved crashes occurs between 6 am and noon, so this change not only effectively destroys the provision of the current rule most cited by professional drivers as beneficial, but it will put more trucks on the road during the statistically riskiest time of the day.

“If there is a positive in this rule, it is the lengthy period of time before it becomes effective,” Graves said of the 18-month delay in the rule’s compliance date. “This will give ATA time to consider legal options. And, by delaying implementation of this rule, the agency is acknowledging there is no safety crisis on our highways.”

Here are the key provisions of the new hours-of-service rule:

*While FMCSA retained the current 11-hour driving provision, there is a new requirement for a 30-minute break from driving if a driver has driven for eight hours since the last off-duty or sleeper berth period. That 30 minute break comes out of the 14 hours driving window. If a 30-minute break is taken early in the 14-hour driving window, a second 30-minute break would be required when the driver reaches eight hours of consecutive driving. The 30-minute break does not have to be a rest break and can include time taken for meals or other non-driving activity such as exercising.

*The most significant change is to the 34-hour restart provision of the current rules. Under the new final rule, a driver can take utilize the 34-hour restart option only once during the week. Also, that 34-hour break from must include two periods of 1 am to 5 am. FMCSA claims this will provide for restorative sleep. The original proposal was to include two periods of from midnight to 6 am.

*The 14-hour driving window (including a 30-minute non-driving break) does not prevent a driver from working beyond 14 hours in a non-driving capacity.

*Drivers in oilfield operations will not have to count as “on-duty” any time spent waiting at a natural gas or oil well site, according to John Conley, president of National Tank Truck Carriers. However, that time will have to be logged on the “off-duty” line as “waiting time.”

*For team operations, a driver may log up to two hours “off-duty” while riding in the passenger seat of a moving commercial motor vehicle prior to or after at least eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.

*As is the case now, a driver who has “been relieved from duty by the motor carrier” may log off-duty time. This is one area where the carrier and driver should ”err on the side of caution,” Conley says.

*FMCSA retained its Proposed Rule provision that “driving (or allowing a driver to drive) three or more hours beyond the driving time limit may be considered an egregious violation and subject to maximum civil penalties.” Trucking companies could be fined $11,000 per offense, and the drivers themselves could face civil penalties of up to $2,750 for each offense, according to FMCSA.

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.