By John Kearney
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has recently proposed a set of changes to the hours-of-service rules that govern the number of hours per day truckers are permitted to spend behind the wheel, as well as the rest breaks they are required to take.
Current hours-of-service rules allow truckers to drive for a total daily maximum time of 11 hours, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Once drivers have put in a steady eight hours, they are required to take an off-duty rest period of at least 30 minutes. Total allowable time for the driving workday—on-duty and off-duty—is 14 hours, followed by the mandatory 10-hour rest period.
On the face of it, this makes sense. While statistics vary widely about how big a factor fatigue is in crashes, there is general agreement that a fresh, rested driver will be more alert and quicker to react to trouble than a tired one. On the other hand, the allowable 11 hours of on-duty time includes time the truck sits at a dock waiting to be loaded or unloaded. A lot of drivers get paid not by the hour but by the mile—meaning that delays in loading and unloading cut into their earnings.
The proposed new rules try to address this by allowing drivers to take a break—i.e. go off duty—while the truck is stationary and waiting to be loaded or unloaded. The new rules would also allow the driver to “pause” the 14-hour driving window by taking an off-duty break for up to three hours. This would create a possible 17-hour workday, with the proviso that the driver still take 10 consecutive hours off duty at the end of the shift.
My view is that the hours-of-service rules could use some adjusting—the delay-at-the-docks issue is a real problem. Still, trucking is a demanding job, and 17 hours sounds like an awful long workday. I understand why truckers would want to relax these regulations, but we must always make safety our number-one priority.
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