The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new hours of service rules, which require truckers to take a 30-minute rest every eight hours and impose a 34-hour restart for truckers, goes into effect in less than two weeks.
With the impending deadline fresh in their minds, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing Tuesday to get to the heart of the changes, what they will mean to trucking companies, and how they will affect the flow of goods throughout the United States.
Adaptability, in general, seemed to be the overarching concern of those opposing the HOS changes, and one industry leading the charge against the new rules is the readymix concrete sector.
Chandler Concrete Co.’s Jeffrey Dean Hinkle enumerated the issues he has with the current HOS changes, saying that readymix concrete drivers spend less than 50 percent of their duty time driving. Most of the time is spent at the plant, at the job site waiting or unloading concrete.
“Companies need the flexibility to be able to give breaks as needed throughout the day,” he said, noting that concrete deliveries take a certain amount of time to complete and can’t be completed outside that window because of the nature of the cargo. “Every day is different in the construction field, thus companies need the flexibility to deliver contract when the customer needs it.”
Joining Hinkle on the panel was Anne Ferro, FMCSA administrator, who took a lot of fire from the transportation panel during the two-hour meeting. Mark Savage, president of Commerical Vehicle Safety Alliance; Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety’s Joan Claybrook; Steve Williams, a representative of the American Trucking Associations; and president of Stocklin Trucking, Edward Stocklin were also on hand to answer questions from the panel.
Ferro pointed out there will be certain special exceptions for the HOS rules. The concrete industry can have a 24-hour restart at any point in time when operating on a job site, she said. The half-hour break, which is the real issue at the heart of the discussion, can be managed more effectively, she said.
“In many cases, to maximize the use of that 30-minute break and to only have to use it once within a 14-hour day, they would optimally take it sometime between the fourth and eighth hour of working,” Ferro said, noting that there is extreme flexibility in the rules.
Responding directly to the industry addressed most often in the panel, she said that concrete companies could impose this break during a loop back to the plant to pick up more cargo.
Hinkle shot back that optimizing work resting periods in this way would be very difficult, and in fact, an imposed, half-hour break would, in some ways, not be manageable at all.
“(Drivers) are constantly getting short breaks throughout the day,” he said. “Maybe not 30 minutes, but 15, 20 minutes as such, so they don’t reach the fatigue level that a driver driving long distance would reach.”
Much of the other testimony centered on creating a line between truckers who rest while on-duty waiting at ports and truckers who actually sign off to sit at a rest stop for 30 minutes. Discussion also centered on falsification of documents and creating a way for the FMCSA to really double check that its rules are being followed.
In his opening remarks, Rep. Thomas E. Petri, R-Wis., noted stakeholders
across the trucking industry are impacted by the rule changes and
with all the court challenges and misinformation, it’s hard to get a
pulse on what the new HOS rules will truly mean for the industry.
“By allowing drivers ample opportunity to get the proper amount of rest,
the regulations are intended to help reduce crashes by reducing driver
fatigue,” Petri said, introducing the issue. “Finding the right
balance between providing drivers the opportunity to rest and the
flexibility to account for unanticipated delays during the workday has
been a challenge.”
While the panel ostensibly met to find a way to
move forward under these new restrictions, participants noted, time and
again, that a current court challenge against the new rules has yet to
be decided. In recent history, HOS changes have been struck down, but
when questioned to this affect, Ferro categorically denied that waiting
to impose the new rules until after litigation has been completed would
be a smart move. FMCSA has already struck down ATA’s request to
wait for implementation until 30 days prior to the court’s ruling.
“The real world implications of these new regulations are difficult to
predict because of the diverse nature of the trucking industry,” Petri
said, echoing the thoughts of the entire panel. “I’m receptive to the
concerns of many of my constituents who argue that a one size fits all
approach won’t provide the flexibility some companies need to take the
appropriate rest breaks.” - Jon Ross