Coalition Not Conceding Yet on Hours of Service Rule
By David W. Dexter,
Sr. Vice President of Government and Public Affairs
In April of last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released the long-awaited Hours of Service for Drivers Final Rule intended to minimize commercial vehicle operator fatigue. The new rule, which took effect January 4, 2004, wasn't perfect, but vastly improved over the original draft. When proposed in 2000, FMCSA sought, among other things, night-time driving restrictions and mandatory 48 consecutive hours off-duty for individual operators. The final rule had neither of those prohibitive measures, but did add a separate wrinkle especially impacting short-haul operations: FMCSA's new rule shortened permissible on-duty time from a flexible 15-hour period to an inflexible 14-hour period from the time an operator begins his workday.
A coalition representing businesses with "short-haul" activities immediately appealed the April 2003 decision. The Hours of Service Coalition — led by SFA and including a diverse membership of organizations such as the American Bakers Association, National Propane Gas Association and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America — pointed out that operators in "short-haul" industries often make numerous stops during the course of their daily on-duty activities and spend a large percentage of their workday in non-driving activities such as selling to or servicing customers, waiting for trucks to be loaded or unloaded, awaiting paperwork, etc. Thus, unlike "long-haul" for-hire truckers, operators employed in short-haul industries have the benefit of spending large portions of their on-duty time in non-driving capacities, which minimizes driving-related fatigue. Let short-haul abide by the old rule of 15 flexible hours, the coalition asked.
FMCSA wasn't convinced and let the new rule stand.
One Congressman, John Boozman (R-Ark.), agreed that short-haul was being short-changed and, with the coalition's assistance, drafted an amendment to the highway funding reauthorization bill pending in the House. The provisions Boozman is proposing will do two things:
Allow short-haul drivers to go back to the old rule. That is, the language Boozman is proposing would allow short-haul drivers to operate under the old rule that provides 15 hours on-duty. "Short-haul operator" is defined as an operator of a commercial motor vehicle providing transportation of property who returns to the operator's normal work reporting location at the end of the operator's daily tour of duty.
Provide limited flexibility to all drivers under the new rule. The new Hours of Service rule created an inflexible consecutive 14-hour on-duty period. This consecutive on-duty time creates unintended stress on the operators who some say are now pushed to eat in their trucks, drive even when feeling fatigued, and stay on the roads even when in traffic or congestion. The language Boozman is proposing would allow drivers to log off to take breaks intended to reduce stress and fatigue.
Congressman Boozman is no stranger to the Hours of Service Coalition. When the group filed its HOS appeal, Boozman persuaded 39 other Members of Congress to sign a letter supporting relief for short-haul. The signers concluded that the new rule, which is intended to reduce driver fatigue, would "force many companies to alter delivery routes and add more trucks and more drivers onto America's highways."