Two words sum up the impact of the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules on trucking operations: It depends. The degree of difference these new rules will make depends primarily on the type of operation you run.

The new rules, which go into effect January 4, 2004, allow 11 hours of driving time, rather than the 10 hours dictated under current regulations. The total time a driver can be on-duty, however, drops to 14 hours, down one from the 15 hours allowed under current rules. The mandated off-duty rest period increases to 10 hours from 8.

“Truckload carriers will be the hardest hit, especially smaller ones that don't have relay operations,” says Mike Behnke, a transportation consultant with Pittsburgh-based SJ Consulting. “LTL carriers, however, should see a minimal impact on both longhaul and local pickup & delivery operations. They'll just have to reconfigure their routes based on the new hours structure.”

MIXED IMPACT

The impact on private fleets will be mixed, largely because of differences in the amount of “non-driving” duties their drivers perform in a given day. According to Gary Petty, president & CEO of the National Private Truck Council (NPTC), “Companies whose drivers just drive will be okay. But those whose drivers do a lot of ‘non-driving’ work, such as loading and unloading, and customer service interaction, face higher costs.”

Sellersburg, IN-based Haas Carriage, for example, is an operation that is split 50/50 between hauling general freight on a for-hire basis and delivering cabinets for Haas Furniture as a private fleet. “The new rules will be terrific for our for-hire side, because it gives us an extra hour to drive,” says president Terry Haas. “On the private side, however, we make multiple stops to deliver furniture, so reducing our total workday by an hour could hurt us there.”

Harry Muhlshlegel, president and owner of New Century Transportation Co., a Westhampton, NJ-based regional truckload firm, says that even though he'll have to “change everything we're doing now to adjust to the new rules,” he feels that in the end it “won't make a whole lot of difference to our company.”

“For example,” he says, “we're already looking at some business now — retail and grocery deliveries — that might not be worth it under the new rules. … because we would not be able to spend four hours a day on deliveries.”

Muhlshlegel adds: “They might not be rules we agree with, and they'll make us work differently and harder than before, but we can't change them. We have to adapt to them. It's what we're paid to do.”

SOME NEW WRINKLES

For the most part, the new regs are pretty straightforward. (See “Rules at a glance” sidebar on next page.) But there are some new wrinkles that fleets should be aware of.

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the 14-hour daily on-duty time limit for drivers can only be extended under one circumstance: two sleeper-berth rest periods. The two rest periods in the sleeper berth have to total 10 hours, and one must be at least two hours long.

“You could have a combination of two hours and eight hours, three and seven, five and five, or two-and-a-half and seven-and-a-half hours, etc.,” says Dave Longo, spokesman for FMCSA. “But if you don't have two periods totaling 10 hours, then the sleeper berth time is simply off-duty time that must be included in the calculation of the 14-hour limit.”

Another exception concerns re-setting the clock after 34 hours of continuous off-duty time. Vehicles used in oil-field operations, groundwater well-drilling operations, utility service, and for transporting construction materials and equipment retain the current 24-hour restart provision, says FMCSA.

However, except for drivers of vehicles that are specially constructed to service oil wells, the drivers mentioned above are required to comply with the new 10-hour off-duty and 11-hour driving limitations, as well as the prohibition on driving after you have been on-duty for 14 hours-no matter how much of that time was spend actually driving.

Drivers from Canada and Mexico must be in compliance with the new rules, both at the time they enter the U.S. and while they're operating in this country. They must also maintain a current “record of duty” status for the previous 7/8-consecutive day period.

FMCSA adds that it may levy civil penalties on drivers or carriers for violating the new rules — ranging from $550 to $11,000 per infraction, depending on severity.

Although initial reactions to the new rules have been positive, most carriers caution that they're still in the midst of analyzing how the new rules will impact their operations.

“They are not perfect, but we can live with them,” says NPTC's Petty. “But it's when fleets really begin to put pencil to paper to figure out how these rules will alter their operations that we'll find out who the winners and losers will be.”

“Overall, these rules are a lot better than what was proposed three years ago,” says Joe Harrison, president of the American Moving & Storage Assn. (See FO — 5/00, p. 10.) “But we do have to look at the reduction of on-duty time from 15 hours to 14 hours. It doesn't seem like a lot, but in our industry we spend a lot more time loading and unloading than we do behind the wheel. On the whole, though, we can probably live with these rules.”

PRO & CON

Bill Graves, president & CEO of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), says: “This is a package our members can work with…[It] will allow us to meet the real world operational needs of the trucking industry and most importantly, do so safely.”

David McCorkle, chairman of McCorkle Truck Line, Oklahoma City, and chair of ATA's committee on HOS, concurs: “We're in the process of analysis right now but it looks like we can live with this one.”

“I thought the feedback on the new rules would be more negative, but 95% of our members say they can live with them,” says Buster Anderson, vp of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

He points out, however, that although the rules will affect everyone differently, they should not hurt the smaller carriers inordinately. “Most small carriers operate on a Monday through Friday schedule to get drivers home on the weekends, so the 34-hr. restart in particular should be helpful,” says Anderson. “However, if a carrier's drivers do more than three hours a day of loading/unloading with breaks, it will hurt — they'll lose productivity.”

Owner-operators are largely against the new rules because they don't address other issues that contribute to fatigue. “After almost 65 years of working with regulatory controls that should have been declared obsolete decades ago, this is a pretty sorry excuse for a revision to address today's problems,” says Jim Johnston, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.

FATIGUE'S OTHER FACE

Johnston says the industry won't see a significant reduction in fatigue until drivers are no longer pressured to meet unrealistic delivery deadlines and forced to perform uncompensated work for as many as 33 to 44 hours per week.

“Not until shippers and carriers stop pressuring drivers to break the rules, and drivers are paid for all the work they do, will the hours-of-service rules have their intended effect,” he says.

Tim Brady, a Kenton, TN-based owner-operator who works under contract for United Van Lines, says, “We have to ask why we need to manage fatigue — we shouldn't be getting fatigued at all in the first place.”

“We may get an hour more to drive, an hour less to work, and two more hours to rest, but we're still working a 70-hr. week,” he says. “We're not addressing the basic reason for fatigue — if you don't drive the miles, you don't make the money.”

Brady contends the new HOS laws will make no difference because they don't account for how the industry pays its drivers. “We're paid by the mile, and that means if you sit for several hours in traffic congestion or at a dock waiting to unload, you're not compensated for that time.”

FOOTING THE BILL

While many carriers and industry experts think the trucking industry can live with changes to the work environment that hours-of-service reform could bring, living with the projected costs is something else entirely.

FMCSA estimates it will cost the trucking industry about $1.28 billion to comply with the new HOS structure. The agency also projects a $671-million savings in reduced accident costs, bringing actual cost down to $611 million.

FMCSA's analysis also predicts the industry will have to hire an extra 63,000 longhaul and 21,300 shorthaul drivers to comply with the new regulations.

“While the number of [driving] hours will go up, the number of hours of work allowed goes down,” says FMCSA. “The fact that drivers must stop work 14 hours after starting reduces the actual number of hours they can work.” The number of additional drivers needed as a result of this change cancels out — by a wide margin — any reduction in the number of drivers needed due to the extra hour of on-duty driving time.

Some observers contend, however, that the extra costs and driver projections for the new rules are far below what the industry might actually face.

“I think FMCSA has grossly underestimated the economic impact of these rules,” says Rosalyn Wilson, a transportation consultant who works for Reality Based IT Systems, Laurel, MD.

While the cost of additional equipment has been included in FMCSA's estimate, the cost of insurance, maintenance, fuel, and other such “side costs” have not been fully calculated, Wilson emphasizes.

Then there are the intangibles. “Most shippers are used to ‘ask for it and it's there’ service from trucking. With the new rules, transit times could become longer, which increases inventory carrying costs — causing a cost ripple effect throughout the supply chain.”

What the true cost of the new HOS rules will be, however, is still undetermined. SJ Consulting's Behnke says, “My gut instinct tells me the overall cost impact of these rules on the supply chain itself will be small because there are so many players involved — warehouses, ports, etc. We will really need to work through these rules for six months to see what the cost impact will be.”

Rules at a glance

Highlights of the new HOS rules, which go into effect January 4, 2004, include:

  • 14 hours on-duty/10 hours off-duty; 11 hours maximum driving time;
  • 60-hours/7-days or 70-hours/8-days cumulative cap for total on-duty time;
  • On-duty clock reset to zero after 34 hours of continuous off-duty time;
  • Split sleeper berth driving : two rest periods totalling 10 hours, one of which must be at least 2 hours long, can be used to extend on-duty time;
  • No nighttime or weekend restrictions.


The safety factor

The primary reason for creating new HOS rules was to reduce driver fatigue, and thus reduce accidents involving large trucks. But some experts don't think HOS reform alone can impact driver fatigue and safety to the degree calculated by FMCSA.

Mike Crum, a professor of transportation and logistics at Iowa State University, stresses that many factors contribute to fatigue. In a study he helped draft for FMCSA based on interviews with 116 for-hire and private carriers, Crum found 15 to 20 major factors that can contribute to fatigue, all of them well outside the scope of HOS regulations.

“The work environment drivers operate in, the economic pressures they face, and a carrier's practices and policies towards safety all affect driver fatigue,” he explains.

“Issues such as how frequently drivers operate during the same hours of the day, the regularity of their route, the ability to control their route, loading/unloading time, and scheduling delays all play into fatigue,” Crum notes.

“Then there's the quality of life side of the equation — how much rest drivers get, how often they get home, and how many uninterrupted hours of sleep per night they get also have an impact on fatigue.”

Crum stresses that HOS laws — no matter how well constructed — cannot force drivers to get quality rest and sleep. “A lot depends on how drivers use their time off, because they have many other things to do: laundry, call home, pay bills, etc. They don't just get off the road and go right to sleep,” he says. “Having ten off-duty hours instead of eight will help here, but in the end you just can't legislate good sleep. There's a lot more to it.”