Federal regulators highlighted an estimated $275 million saved by the trucking industry as a result of productivity gains from just one of the one of the proposed changes to hours-of-service HOS regulations, but the industry could see even bigger productivity and capacity gains if all the revisions are enacted, according to trucking experts.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) wants to relax the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after eight hours of actual driving time – instead of eight hours of merely being on-duty – and allowing the requirement to be satisfied by an on-duty break from driving, rather than requiring an off-duty break. Multiplying a carrier’s per-hour profit by the hours saved by drivers, the FMCSA arrives at the estimated $275 million annual cost savings – or $2.3 billion annualized over 10 years.
But the agency is also considering allowing drivers to pause their 14-hour driving window with one off-duty break of between 30 minutes and three hours, a revision meant to account for delays caused by shippers and receivers – a change requested by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
“I was surprised to see this in the rulemaking, but I think it will give carriers a lot more flexibility, particularly if their driver gets stuck at a shipper/consignee location waiting to load or unload,” Tim Wiseman, managing partner at the law firm Scopelitis, told FreightWaves.
Wiseman also was not expecting regulators to expand the definition of what constitutes a “short haul” move from 100 to 150 miles, and thus be exempted from both electronic logging device (ELD) requirements and the 30-minute rest-break requirements. “That will benefit companies that have routes that are more than 100 miles from the normal work-reporting location of the driver,” Wiseman said.
FMCSA is also allowing drivers who take advantage of the split-sleeper-berth exception (in which drivers can split their required 10-hour off-duty period between a two-hour period and eight hours in the sleeper berth) into two periods of seven hours and three hours (either off-duty or sleeper berth), and counting neither period against the driver’s 14-hour driving window.
Wiseman estimated that the way the current revisions are drafted, overall driver productivity will increase by at least 5 to 6 percent. “When they changed the [14-hour on-duty clock] from 15 hours years ago, studies found that it decreased productivity of long-haul truck drivers by roughly that amount, so they’re kind of putting that productivity back, is the way I interpret the changes.”
Ibrahiim Bayaan, FreightWaves’ Chief Economist & Market Expert, agrees that the rule changes will better allow drivers to customize their days, meet deadlines and optimize their rest time so that they’re taking breaks when then need them, not when they have to.
“We have data showing the proportion of the 11-hour clock that drivers aren’t using for driving – they’re maybe using seven hours when times are good, but less when the market is softer,” Bayaan said (see FreightWaves’ SONAR chart, above). “So to the extent these rules allow greater flexibility, carriers should be able to eliminate more of the wasted time.”
Bayaan pointed out that while the ELD mandate had the effect of tightening freight capacity due in part to restrictions in HOS regulations, relaxing the rules – whenever they were to go into effect, which might not be until 2021 – could have the opposite effect, at least in the short-term.
“You can think of optimizing HOS as being another way of increasing capacity in the industry. It does have that kind of an effect,” he said. “Right now the industry is in a period of adjustment – when you look at recent trucking bankruptcies, it’s the industry adjusting to the idea that there’s too much capacity out there. But I don’t look at these regulatory changes as an attempt to address a short-term problem. What the proposed changes will do if they are enacted is to make the trucking industry more efficient.”