If there is just one word that can best sum up the official Listening Session on hours of service (HOS) that FMCSA held on Friday at the Great American Trucking Show, it would be flexibility. Speaker after speaker told agency representatives, including Administrator Ray Martinez, that all they wanted from the HOS regs was flexibility to do their job, and do it safely.
Dick Pingel, an owner-operator and board member of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) who has accumulated over 4 million miles of accident-free driving in his lifetime, told the FMCSA panel that the 14-hour rule penalizes him every time he takes a break. Looking back, Pingel said that 15 years ago – the last time FMCSA changed the HOS rules – the industry was looking for flexibility with the regulations and what it got was a mandated 30-minute break.
“Maybe if the Administrator listened then, we wouldn’t be having this discussion today,” he said.
On Friday, Martinez was joined on the panel by Joe DeLorenzo, director of enforcement and compliance; Jim Mullen, chief counsel; Larry Miner, associated administrator for policy; and Wiley Deck, director of governmental affairs. Beyond a short presentation by DeLorenzo breaking down the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) issued by FMCSA earlier this week and a few opening statements by Martinez, the panel mostly remained quiet listened to the industry.
When Martinez took the job six months, he promised the industry he would listen. In regards to HOS, it appears he may be.
“All I kept hearing is we need more flexibility in hours of service,” he said in his prepared remarks. “In government, you have to move forward in a [formal manner] and the way to do this is with an ANPRM, where we put on paper the four corners [of regulation].”
The ANPRM issued on Aug. 21 is seeking comment on five questions related to hours of service. Martinez and DeLorenzo both stressed that the ANPRM is not a formal regulation, and may not even lead to a regulation, but is the way for the agency to gather industry feedback on proposals. That feedback can help formulate a potential rule. In this particular case, the ANPRM has put forth a 30-day window for comments – a very short period that Martinez said he hopes “indicates to the industry that we are serious about this.” The window could be extended, and a representative from TruckerNation, which submitted a petition along with OOIDA to push for changes to HOS rules, said the group would be filing for an extension of the comment period.
The ANPRM seeks comments on these five questions:
1. Should the window for short-haul drivers be extended from 12 to 14 hours?
2. In the case of adverse weather conditions, should the exception be expanded to include the 14-hour work day window?
3. Is the 30-minute rest break necessary or should it be eliminated?
4. In terms of split sleeper, are there alternatives that would make the sleeper berth options more effective?
5. Are there any comments on the OOIDA or TruckerNation petitions?
Briefly, TruckerNation’s petition calls for the ability to break up the driver’s 10-hour break as they see fit – 5 and 5, 6 and 4, 3, 3 and 4, etc. OOIDA is asking for the 14-hour clock to be extended an additional 3 hours of off-duty time that the driver can use as they see fit.
Both groups have asked for the elimination of the 30-minute break.
Most of the speakers at the Listening Session agreed that the 30-minute break should go, and nearly all believed the rules need more flexibility, although some were in favor of extending the 14-hour clock and others were not. Those who opposed an extension, though, aligned themselves with TruckerNation’s approach in changing the way the 10-hour break is mandated.
“We believe professional drivers should be allowed to use their professional judgement and use their 10-hour break like 10 dollars,” Andrea Marks, from TruckerNation, said, noting that drivers should be able to use the time as they see fit.
John Schmitz said the HOS approach can’t be a one-size-fits-all solution.
“We’re trying to put everybody into a box and make sure we’re all in the same box,” the owner-operator said. Schmitz believes the rules should reflect the diverse needs of the industry’s various segments.
Several speakers noted that providing flexibility within the 10 hours would eliminate the need to have a required 30-minute break, with one driver, named Ricky, noting that drivers don’t drive for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time anyway before stopping to “reset their minds, reset their eyes.”
Gary Hull, who was in attendance representing Truckers for Cause, said the rules need to consider sleep hygiene and allow drivers to stop when they need to and “don’t penalize them” for doing so by keeping the clock ticking.
Bruce Bush is also in favor of more flexibility in regards to split sleeper options that stops the 14-hour clock and the elimination of the 30-minute break.
“I don’t think we need to mandate it because we’re going to take it during the day to use the bathroom, get a something to eat, so we’re going to take it anyway,” he said.
Several commenters who operate in short-haul operations, which are subject to a 12-hour work day and not a 14-hour day, noted the addition of 2 additional hours could be significant for their operations.
“Our guys, they only drive about 5 hours a day,” explained Bob Schapar, compliance manager for a rental equipment company. “They are in and out of the truck and sometimes they don’t want to take a lunch because they’ll be waiting at a customer [and eat while they wait]. But sometimes, if they hit that 12 hours with the ELD, suddenly they are in violation [not taking a mandated 30-minute break].”
Audrey Klotz, a compliance manager at a construction company that uses the short haul exemptions to move equipment from location to location, says the 12 hours can be problematic for her operation.
“Even utilizing the short-haul exemptions, we have a very difficult time getting our drivers out of their seats in 12 hours,” she said, adding that drivers are usually only on the road for 6 hours a day, but spend time waiting at sites, loading and unloading, etc. The additional two hours may help prevent this.
Steve Davenport summed up the event best, saying that “there’s 24 hours in a day and you should allow people over the road to plan their day [in the safest way possible].”