July 26, 2002

TRUCKIN’ – Reader (and truck driver) Gerald Dearing takes up my challenge on the hours-of-service regulations:

I have to disagree about the Hours of Service regs being too inflexible. Seventy hours in eight days is a lot of driving time. When I hit seventy, I’m spent. The hard and fast rule is: no more than ten hours without eight hours off duty. Other than that, you can do pretty much what you want. Up to sixteen driving hours in a twenty four hour day. And even the eight hour break can be split into two segments of “sleeper berth time” (as opposed to standard “off duty time”). Notice that nowhere do the regs say that the driver must actually sleep.

Reform as proposed would make the rules more rigid, more complex, and more hostile to the driver. To the point of mandating a non-paid non-productive day of down time while on the road. If I have to be down, I’d rather be home!

Sleep experts criticize the ten-on-eight-off cycle as disruptive to circadian rhythms, but no workable cure has been proposed (that I’ve seen).

There is, of course, the argument that the number of hours a driver can work should be increased. The regs were written at a time when there were no freeways, no power steering, no cab suspension, no comforts such as air conditioning or brakes. Driving is much less taxing now than in the “good ole days”. But I doubt any politico will seriously push that idea.

The biggest problem is Shippers and Receivers who demand the impossible, carriers desperate to please the customer, and drivers who will actually violate the regs when pushed.

Example: One recent load I had was from New Orleans to Denver for an 8 am delivery appointment. 1233 miles in 49 hours; achievable. Trailer was to be preloaded and ready for pickup at the Shipper by 8 am. Not only was it not ready, the product had not even been pulled or staged. It was 11 pm before I was ready to roll. Now the delivery expectation was legally unachievable.

A dispatcher will tell the driver “you need to be there on time, we can’t upset this account”. An experienced driver will say “the load gets there when I get there. The service failure is due to the Shipper, not us”. If he wants to dispute it further, every company has a Safety Department. And the DOT loves these disputes (thousands of $$$$ in fines!).

Unfortunately, our industry has a high turnover of a small percentage of drivers. “Six week wonders.” (It’s a tough life.) There are always those with less experience who give in the the pressure or think that their job is in jeopardy. These drivers (and some cowboys) will actually run the load. And give the rest of us a bad name. Given time, they learn that no carrier dares take action against a driver who refuses to run on legitimate grounds. And a driver with a good safety record can find employment with just a phone call.

The time a driver spends waiting for loading or unloading is off duty time, and doesn’t count against the hours of service. But it is not pleasant time. There is no rest or sleep. A loading delay of eight hours can count as your break, leaving you dead tired. The customer, however,expects you to be able to drive the next ten hours (or more) nonstop.

This problem would go away if carriers would charge delay/detainage fee for customers who fail to load/unload trucks in a timely manner. Say, within four hours of the appointment.. But carriers are loath to charge these fees, for fear the customers would switch to the competition. So this needs to be universal. I hate to call for Government action, but unless an industry wide resolve is reached… Maybe with pressure from PATT, etc…

This can happen without codification. Proctor & Gamble is a leader in this aspect. For their shipments, they require that the consignee complete unloading within two hours of the trucks delivery appointment, or the customer is charged higher rates on subsequent shipments. On the flip side, it was an expediter for P&G that screwed up my Denver load so badly.

Of course, there are truckers who would disagree with me. That’s the great thing about truckers. Go to any truckstop and you can get an argument on any side of any issue. Some guys will argue both sides simultaneously. Anything to be contrary. Hours of Service is a favorite gripe. But I doubt you’d get much support for the reforms as proposed.

More than you ever wanted to know about trucking.

I like trucks. I have fond memories of riding along with my dad and grandad when I was little: both drove gas tankers at various times. For my dad it was just a working-through-college thing. I’ve never driven anything bigger than a rental truck full of sound equipment, though.

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