Another HOS shoe drops

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Everyone has a role in the movement of freight. As partners in our transportation system let's draw on our commitment to doing what’s right and our shared commitment to excellence.” –Anne Ferro, chief administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

So, the White House’s rule crunchers – known more formally as the “Office of Management and Budget” or just “OMB” – now have in their possession the first draft of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) rewrite of the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations that govern the lives of truck drivers.

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The clock is now ticking pretty quickly (as the rulemaking process goes, that is) for from this moment, OMB gets 90 days to review the agency’s initial stab at HOS reform and then must publish the re-done rules on Nov. 4 this year for public comment – a public comment period that runs until Jan. 4 of next year.

We’ll no doubt start to get drips of information here and there about the details of FMCSA’s first take on HOS reform in the coming days and weeks, then watch much furious debate ensue as spotlight shines on said particulars.

Yet I am hoping – and let me stress the key word “hoping” here – that the agency took to heart the many pieces of information it gleaned from the HOS public listening sessions it’s held across the U.S. since late last year.

One of the most important pieces of the trying to piece together this new HOS puzzle, though, is to figure out how decisions outside the control of carriers and drivers alike affects the safety profile of the trucking industry. And by this I mean how loading and unloading delays at ports, terminals, warehouses, etc. can put enormous fiscal pressure on drivers to violate the rules in order to earn a decent paycheck.

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It was heartening to hear Anne Ferro herself – FMCSA’s chief administrator – point to the safety implications of this very scenario in a speech before shippers themselves just over a month ago.

At the Washington Freight Transportation Policy Forum back in June, hosted by the National Industrial Transportation League, Ferro (seen here at left with Don Osterberg, vp-safety for Schneider National, at a recent conference concerning sleep apnea) stressed that shippers – as the motor carrier's primary customer – play a unique role in trucking safety, one few others possess.

“All of you know that truckers are limited to how long they can be on-duty and behind the wheel. When they arrive at a terminal, they are ‘on-duty,’ so when the truck is not moving, the drivers are burning hours they cannot recapture,” she said. “Consequently, when they do get a load and leave the terminal, they are under increased financial and mental stress to ‘not run out of hours.’ They have families to support, this is their livelihood.”

She noted that during FMCSA’s “numerous” public listening sessions – held as a run-up to undertaking the new HOS rulemaking proposal just slipped to OMB – the agency heard from hundreds of truck drivers from all over the country.

“The wasted ‘down time’ at loading docks was a constant refrain, a constant complaint that drivers said negatively impacted safety,” she stressed. “Think about that. Put yourself in the shoes of the truck driver who can’t get in and get offloaded, can't get out with a load because of inefficiencies at terminals. Who is in the unique position to address this?”

As a result, Ferro pointedly asked the gathered shippers to increase their stake in motor carrier safety. “Practices that leave truckers waiting at the port or terminal for hours at a time do not take account of how long drivers may drive,” she noted. “I ask each of you today to take responsibility in your businesses to increase your stake in motor carrier safety. Between now and the end of the year, take the time to re-examine practices that short change the driver’s ability to drive safely.”

In her view, everyone in transportation – shippers included – has an important role to play in ensuring the safe movement of freight. “As partners in our transportation system let's draw on our commitment to doing what’s right and our shared commitment to excellence,” Ferro said.

Let’s just hope FMCSA gave such words some serious teeth in what they’ve submitted to OMB.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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