Framework for HOS reform

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Whatever decision is made with the rules, please keep them in place! Constantly changing the rules creates challenges with consistency and uniformity in compliance and enforcement.” –Steve Keppler, interim executive director, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance

Needless to say, the hours of service (HOS) reform effort launched by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) late last year is the big topic of discussion in trucking circles this week. As you no doubt know, the feds held their first of four public “listening sessions” this week to gather comments on the current HOS rules from all corners within – and without – the trucking industry.

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The testimony from Steve Keppler (seen here at right), interim executive director for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), in particular proved interesting, insofar as he tried to lay down for FMCSA some suggested guidelines for the estimated two years it’ll take to revise HOS rules yet again (the third time in 10 years the agency’s taken this on).

While Keppler’s HOS perspective is rooted in the “enforcement” side of commercial vehicle operations, he nonetheless offered I think many observations ubiquitous among all the players in the HOS debate – the biggest one being his quote above, to stop changing the rules so much.

“To be effective for both enforcement and industry, hours of service regulations need clarity and brevity; to be simple and practical,” he explained. “[Today’s] rules are fairly easy to understand and enforce roadside.”

The issues with the current HOS regulations – and these are issued to watch as FMCSA begins reformulating them – is a lack rules related to supporting documents required for HOS to be maintained on the vehicle.

“This has made it difficult in some cases for roadside enforcement to verify compliance and to identify falsification,” Keppler said. “In a number of instances drivers are not providing complete/accurate or producing records of duty status roadside.” That’s why he thinks supporting HOS documents should be required to be maintained on the vehicle with the record of duty status during current inspection periods.

Going forward, he suggested several other “guiding principles” for any new rules:

Uniformity. ”This is important for several fundamental reasons,” he said. “It makes training and education efforts, as well as compliance and enforcement activities, simpler and more effective; it provides a better means to measure impacts on safety and programs; it provides a better means to share and implement best practices among the various enforcement jurisdictions; and it facilitates reciprocity and fair treatment to industry across jurisdictional boundaries.”

Be simple. “Complexity affects uniformity in a number of ways,” Keppler said. “It creates difficulty and variation in application and interpretation; it creates harmonization challenges with state, provincial, and local laws; it creates frustration, leading to misunderstanding; it creates difficulty in developing training and educational tools; it creates an environment of subjectivity rather than objectivity.”

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Keppler also believes the new rules must be science-based and data-driven on factors relating to driver fatigue, health, workload, safety performance and crash reduction. Also, adequate time is required to allow for the smooth implementation for compliance and enforcement personnel as well as industry – i.e., time need for regulatory changes at the state level, development of uniform ‘out of service’ criteria, time for putting together training, software programs, etc.

Here’s another key point: “Include passenger carrying vehicle drivers in the process so the end result is one set of rules for all CMV [commercial motor vehicle] drivers,” stressed Keppler. Right now, truckers and motorcoach (or simple “bus”) drivers use two different sets of rules. Having one set for both of them would reduce a lot of headaches for everyone on the enforcement side of the ledger.

He also noted that the “one set for all” mindset is beneficial when looking north of the border. “Evaluate Canada’s HOS rules and supporting research for potential areas of harmonization,” he said. “For example, the U.S. restart provision is for 34 hours, while Canada’s is 36.” Such harmonization would help make things easier for drivers that operate in both countries, I would think.

“Ensure there is clarity and clear understanding with respect to the HOS regulations, regulatory guidance and FMCSA enforcement policies,” added Keppler. “Make sure there is no conflicting information that hampers enforcement.”

One big item up for debate is the development of adequate provisions within the rules to permit the opportunity for drivers to achieve restorative sleep during their work week. “We need to provide flexibility for drivers to use sleeper berths effectively, having the opportunity to take short-term naps as well as longer term sleep periods,” Keppler noted.

This isn’t a popular idea with other advocacy groups, such as Public Citizen, which believe such “flexibility” leads to drivers pushing themselves for longer stretches behind the wheel. But common sense – and my own experience – tells me such flexibility is vital. Drivers should be able to take a break as needed. No two people are the same in terms of circadian rhythms, especially when it comes to sleep and nap needs. Giving the rules enough flex to accommodate the many different sleep/waking cycles among the human population is vital, in my view.

CVSA is also a big supporter of mandating electronic on board recorders (EOBRs) for HOS compliance for all commercial vehicle drivers. “We know FMCSA has a current rulemaking on this and another one is being planned; however, we strongly suggest that consideration be given to an across the board mandate,” Keppler said.

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This is another controversial issue, as many fleets and drivers openly loathe this technology. Surprisingly, though, a fleet guy – Chris Peters (seen here at right), vp-operations for regional trucking operator Carlisle Carrier Corp. – gave a pretty compelling argument to making it mandatory.

Carlisle actually took a big productivity hit, on the order of 6% to 9%, when the current HOS rules went into full effect back in 2004. But one of the ways they compensated for that over time is by installing a type of EOBR in every one of their vehicles. “There’s a cost to this technology, to be sure, but it significantly reduced the costs of our compliance with HOS,” Peters explained. “That’s why we support and across the board mandate [for EOBRs] – we find it to be a helpful tool in offsetting our loss of productivity.”

CVSA’s Keppler also said FMCSA should implement fatigue management programs and driver health and wellness programs in the industry that have been proven to improve driver safety, health and performance. Further, the agency should more deeply investigate sleep apnea regarding CMV drivers and, based on science, research and testing, make needed regulatory changes to minimize driver risk and improve driver alertness, health and performance in relation to sleep apnea findings.

Again, another controversial area, but one fleets themselves are supporting more research into. Marsha Vande Hei (at left), director of regulatory compliance for truckload carrier Schneider National, stressed to FMCSA that dealing with sleep disorders, not changing HOS rules per se, should be the agency's primary focus.

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"Fatigue management is a much more broad-based concern," Vande Hei said. "It's estimated that 28% of the truck driver population suffers from sleep disorders. Among Schneider's drivers, we estimate 17% have some sort of sleep disorder."

More than a few experts I talked to at FMCDSA’s first “listening session” added that some sort of “sleep disorder” policy is coming down the pike – most likely involving screening of drivers and work rules related to sleep disorder maladies.

Finally, Keppler backs the establishment of what he calls “a robust process” for evaluating the safety impacts related to existing and any potential future regulatory AND statutory HOS exemptions.

“There are several statutory HOS exemptions that were enacted in SAFETEA-LU [the last highway bill] and we do not believe providing for safety exemptions through statute is good public policy, especially in light of the fact that some of these exemptions were not granted — in our view — based on science and safety,” he stressed. “HOS regulations are first and foremost highway safety rules and are not meant to conform to industry operations.”

I think that is smart, though I think some in the trucking industry would object. I mean, let’s face it; these rules are all about safety and frankly, if a trucker can’t get his or her job done within a 14 hour work day window, some red flags should be raised. I know harvest season is a go-go time for many truckers, but figuring out a way to do it safely without leading to excessive driver fatigue should be relatively easy as we have so much technology and resources available to us today.

Finally, Keppler suggested an interesting process: developing a systematic system for periodically reviewing and evaluating HOS rules for relevance and whether they are having the desired effects (i.e. crash reduction). Basically, then, instead of having to go back and rewrite the rules, they can be adjusted based upon the ongoing collection of real-world data – that would make the rules more relevant and adaptable to changing conditions, one would think.

It’s a lot to chew on, no doubt, but as this HOS revision effort marks the third time in a decade the FMCSA has tackled it, they are well worth considering.

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