Rules of the road

Rules of the road

March 27th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Proposed new rules

• Limit "on-duty" time to 13 hours, from 14 hours per day

• Limit maximum driving within the 13-hour driving window to 10 hours, from 11 hours

• Limit consecutive driving hours to seven

• Must rest for two consecutive nights once per week to "restart" 70-hour work clock

Source: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Daphne Izer, founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers, lost her son in 1993.

It was his 17th birthday.

Jeff Izer and his four friends had pulled over to the side of the road on the way to a haunted hayride. They didn't know it, but the driver of an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer just behind them had fallen asleep at the wheel. He plowed into the stopped car, killing Jeff and three of his friends, she said.

A fourth survived with serious physical and mental injuries.

As a result of what she called a "horrific, preventable crash," on the Maine turnpike because of tired driving, she founded Parents Against Tired Trucking in 1994 to campaign for fewer driving hours.

Izer believes tired drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers, and she told a U.S. Senate panel in 2007 that up to 40 percent of big-truck crashes are because of fatigue. She believes truckers need more rest.

But long-haul truck drivers and their corporate bosses say consumers could pay billions more for goods if federal changes under consideration take effect July 26, as scheduled.

Bruce Adams, an independent truck driver, claims he only needs five or six hours of sleep per day, "and I don't know anybody who sleeps 10 hours except my teenage son," he said. "I'd rather be driving."

Supports new rules:

• Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

• International Brotherhood of Teamsters

• Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

• Public Citizen

• Truck Safety Coalition

•Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways

•Parents Against Tired Truckers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has proposed new rules to cut maximum driving time each day from 11 hours to 10 hours. The proposed measure also would shrink on-duty time and introduce mandatory breaks for truck drivers. The changes also will require a two-night waiting period after a driver hits his maximum allowable number of hours for the week.

The Truck Safety Coalition, which supports the new rules, called the old rules "unsafe," and filed a lawsuit in conjunction with union and safety groups to force the government to consider the new, stricter rules.

However, opponents say that the number of collisions has steadily decreased since the previous set of rules went into effect in 2004. They say the new rules aren't needed for safety, and will cost companies and consumers billions of dollars because of the higher cost of moving freight.

As far as Adams is concerned, no law is going to make him sleep more. He wants more hours to drive, not fewer.

"Hopefully by the time they pass this, I'll be retired," he said.

Measuring drive time

Aside from reducing the total number of hours drivers can spend in the cab, the biggest change in the proposed rules deals with how drivers get to measure their weekend.

Currently, drivers operate on an eight-day week in which they may work 70 hours, according to Frank Silio, a driver for Covenant Transport. When they reach the 70-hour limit, they have the option to rest for 34 hours to 'reset' the clock and get back to work, he said.

Opposes new rules:

American Trucking Associations

U.S. Xpress

Covenant Transport

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association

U.S. Chamber of Commerce

U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy

National Association of Manufacturers

National Restaurant Association

National Industrial Transportation League

Snack Food Association

Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance

Source: American Trucking Associations, Truck Safety Coalition

Drivers say they often use the current rule to quickly get back on the road if they run out of hours on one side of the country but want to get back to their family on the other side.

"The current driver consensus is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Silio said.

But new rules would require that the 34-hour break include two consecutive midnight- to 6-a.m. periods, which, depending on when a driver is able to get away from work, could force drivers to remain stationary far more than 34 hours. Furthermore, the thousands of drivers hitting the road simultaneously at 6:01 a.m. every morning - the start of the morning commute - could create a "drivers, start your engines" situation that would concentrate most truck traffic on roads during rush hour, Silio said.

"This just isn't practical," he added.

Opponents react

Patrick Quinn, the co-chairman of U.S. Xpress and former head of the American Trucking Associations, said the cost of complying with the new rules would be felt at every level in the supply chain, including consumers' wallets. Trucks transport about 80 percent of all goods moving through the nation, Quinn said, and the new rules would make it too expensive for many of the smaller companies - already squeezed by a sour economy - to stay in business.

Quinn said the proposed government restrictions on driver hours of operation "will further crowd our already congested highways, create new hardships for the entire professional driving community, and consequently reverse the recent gains in the American economy."

He anticipates an 8 percent drop in driver mileage as a result of the new hours of service, which would force U.S. Xpress and others into a 10 to 12 percent rate increase to cover additional costs.

Though they aren't in complete agreement, industry groups like the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also object to the new regulations, arguing that the rules take away choice from truck drivers and ultimately would reduce the amount they can earn.

With a reduced driving window, truckers could watch a larger portion of their hours "evaporate by the unconcerned actions of shippers and receivers," as they burn time sitting in the truck, according to a statement from the drivers' association.

Truck driver George Thorn has hauled freight for five years, traveling with his wife by his side. They're both worried that new, more stringent requirements could cut Thorn's earnings by as much as $68 per day.

"It's gonna mess up everything," he said. "You can't get nowhere in 10 hours."

Electronic Logs coming

The effect of the new hours will be amplified because of new electronic logging systems going into effect at the same time. Even with the current 11-hour driving limit, many drivers "cheat" on their paper logbooks, allowing them to driver farther and earn more money, independent trucker Loy Mansfield said.

Getting caught last week cost him $390, but he does it anyway because at only 30 cents per mile, he needs the money.

"It's killing us, and we can't afford these tickets as it is," he said.

But it's a lot harder to fool an electronic logbook, which can monitor when the vehicle is in motion and where it is geographically.

Drivers who illegally work for 16 or 17 hours at a time could see their mileage drop even more drastically than studies predict; studies that assume truckers only drive for the legal maximum, Mansfield said.

Higher shipping costs

Responding to business complaints about overregulation, President Barack Obama recently issued an executive order in which he committed the government "to eliminating excessive and unjustified burdens on small businesses, and ensuring that regulations are designed with careful consideration of their effects."

But critics of the new rules say the government proposal on driver hours flies in the face of that order.

In the government's own 119-page impact analysis, the trucking regulator acknowledged that its actions could cost the industry up to $2.3 billion, depending on which limits it decides to impose. The burden would be felt by roughly 70,000 trucking companies, 70 percent of which own between one and five tractors, according to the agency.

Mansfield, a truck driver since 1983, said he can barely make enough money as it is. With the new driving limits, "you can't make no money," he said.

"I'd rather quit and go haul logs somewhere," Mansfield said. "What am I going to do for 10 hours, twiddle my thumbs?"

Final steps

When the government makes a decision near the end of July, it will attempt to reconcile its original proposal with some of the suggestions made by truckers, associations, safety groups, unions and others.

The regulator defended its actions, saying that though "the costs, for their part, are large in absolute terms," they are "minor when compared to the size of the industry."

The estimated $2 billion in compliance costs per year equals only 1 percent of revenues in the for-hire long-haul segment of the industry, the agency asserts.

And in the end, the agency is concerned primarily with driver safety, it wrote in its notice of proposed rulemaking.

"While the data are not as complete as FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) would like them to be, the Agency aimed to limit, to the extent possible, the likelihood that drivers will be fatigued," the regulator wrote. "FMCSA believes that working continuously without a break is neither safe nor healthy."