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Driver issuesNewsTrucking Regulation

Shippers urge feds to consider 14-hour driving rule change

Coca Cola, Home Depot among companies expecting to see benefits from FMCSA pilot project

A coalition of shippers that includes Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), The Home Depot (NYSE: HD) and Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG) is pushing regulators to roll out a split-duty pilot project to allow drivers to get more productivity out of their workday.

The Safer Hauling and Infrastructure Protection (SHIP) Coalition asserts that the “Split Duty Period Pilot Program” being considered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) – which gives drivers the option to pause the 14-hour driving window with a rest period lasting between 30 minutes and three hours – “should increase safety, allowing drivers the necessary flexibility that would benefit the general public and shippers,” SHIP Coalition Executive Director Sean Joyce told FreightWaves.

“This pilot program is a win-win. It is better for safety and allows shippers and drivers opportunities to better utilize the 14-hour period by avoiding times of congestion or more efficiently coordinate the pickup and drop-off of cargo. FMCSA should implement the proposed pilot program so data can be collected.”

The SHIP Coalition, a “joint effort of more than 80 of the nation’s most prominent manufacturers, agribusinesses and trade associations,” pointed out in formal comments submitted to FMCSA that if the pilot program is too short or involves too few drivers, any data collected that supports the split-duty rule change may be regarded as insufficient.

“The case for the split-duty period is a good one and FMCSA should not be swayed by those comments to deny it a chance to operate,” the group stated.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the independent federal agency charged by Congress to investigate significant transportation accidents, is one group that has submitted such comments. The agency, which opposed the hours-of-service (HOS) rule changes that went into effect on Sept. 29, also opposes the split-duty proposal, especially when it is considered in combination with the HOS changes that could result in extending a driver’s workday even longer than 17 hours, it stated.

“The proposed split-duty provision will increase the likelihood that drivers may be operating a vehicle up to 17 hours after coming on duty and even longer since awakening,” according to NTSB’s formal comments.

“This is concerning because driving after prolonged time awake has been associated with decrements in driving performance. Assuming the two-hour adverse driving exemption will apply to drivers involved in the proposed pilot study, this also means some drivers may be driving [trucks] on the road up to 19 hours after coming on duty. Further, allowing for a driving window that could extend as long as 17 or 19 hours will increase the likelihood that drivers will experience circadian disruption from not maintaining a 24-hour day.”

Several commenters on the proposal were also concerned that any benefits associated with pausing the 14-hour window could be undermined by carriers and shippers pressuring drivers to use the break to cover detention time.

“Under such a scenario, the agency believes that the off-duty period may not provide a meaningful opportunity for drivers to rest,” the FMCSA acknowledged in the proposal. “The pilot program is designed, among other things, to discover the extent to which ‘detention pauses’ occur and their effect on drivers, compared to pauses taken under other circumstances.”

But David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, a 13,000-member group whose members average 12 power units, maintained that addressing detention time issues and mistreatment of drivers by shippers should be dealt with in carriers’ contracts.

“And while suspending the 14-hour window in connection with detention at a shipper’s facility may or may not be optimal, to assert a categorical assumption about the rest a driver gets at that time is highly questionable,” he said.

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Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher

John Gallagher, Washington Correspondent

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.