Comments to FMCSA on Proposed Hours of Service Regulations Change

Proposed Rule: Hours of Service of Drivers
Docket ID: FMCSA-2018-0248-5454 - Because truckers know that no trucker deserves to be stung financially.

Written on October 21, 2019, by

Vicki Simons, President

Having nearly 3 years of experience in driving a commercial motor vehicle; having been married to a man who has driven professionally for over 16 years; and having for over 10.5 years published information online that is geared to helping professional truck drivers save money (which is distributed to thousands of readers); I am commenting on the FMCSA’s Proposed Rule: Hours of Service of Drivers.

By way of additional background, from February 2017 to the present, I have researched articles from major trucking news websites in advance of writing a weekly trucking commentary. In so doing, it has been my observation that the number of truck accidents has increased over that period of time.

Given my analytical personality type, my first question regarding this observation is:

“Has the number of truck crashes actually increased or has the reporting of truck crashes simply improved?”

Based on what I have read, it is my opinion that:

  • the number of truck crashes has actually increased and
  • the number of rear-end truck crashes has increased (even among experienced truckers).

Regarding the latter, I cite the case of a husband and wife trucking couple who “had been driving for [their] company for more than twenty years.” As the wife was driving on Interstate 10 on Friday, September 27, 2019, she approached the Sierra Blanca border checkpoint, but for unknown reasons failed to slow down.

The truck she was driving slammed into the rear of another truck, became “engulfed in flames,” and both she and her husband (the latter of whom was in the sleeper berth) died.

I speculate that the inflexibility of the 2013 Hours of Service regulations contributed to the driver’s cognitive function not being at full capacity.

Todd Spencer, president of OOIDA, was quoted as saying, “Truck drivers are more regulated and more compliant than ever, but crashes keep going up.”

And this is certainly what I have observed.

predicted in 2013 that the change to the Hours of Service regulation would not improve safety or save lives:

What will it take to demonstrate whether the new HOS rule is about safety or control? I re-state what we asked through our blog on July 2, which was based on this article: “What if the new HOS rules don’t reduce truck driver fatigue or improve safety? What if the ‘common sense, data-driven changes’ and reduced work hours back fire? Will the FMCSA be willing to reverse course? How long will it take before we know?”

Here we are, some 6 years later, and what I predicted has — sadly — come to pass.

In response to the ELD mandate, I wrote an extensive commentary on December 4, 2017, and summarized “Large Truck and Bus Crash Facts” over a number of years:

So, annually over the period from 2012 to 2016, fatal crashes involving large trucks was up by 2 percent, down by 5 percent, up by 8 percent, and up by 5.4%, for a net increase of 10.4%. What has been happening? Are the large trucks at fault in all or even most of these fatal crashes involving large trucks?

Ohio doesn’t represent the entire USA, of course, but we read in a November 22, 2017, article that “Based on statistics from 2016, the Ohio DOT confirmed that the truck driver wasn’t at fault in about 75 percent of fatality crashes involving a commercial motor vehicle.”

While it seems as though the number of crashes has increased greatly since the ELD (Electronic Logging Device) mandate went into effect, ELD usage merely revealed how unreasonable the 2013 Hours of Service regulations were.

In numerous comments that I have provided to the FMCSA on multiple topics, aspects of what a trucker encounters during the course of his/her workday contribute greatly to his/her inability to get adequate compensation on the job and good, restorative sleep during his/her rest break, namely:

  • Unreasonable detention in docks at shipper and/or receiver facilities;
  • Lack of adequate truck parking; and
  • A broken cents-per-mile pay structure that may encourage some OTR truck drivers to take unnecessary risks in order to try to earn a paycheck.

Furthermore, while it is admirable that some trucking companies are seeking to increase truck utilization, a tight schedule may put their truckers in situations of increased pressure.

My concerns about the 2019 proposed Hours of Service regulations change include:

  1. The FMCSA has added “flexibility” to the mandated 30-minute break, but (as OOIDA pointed out) the break should have been eliminated altogether.
  2. The FMCSA has added a provision that allows for professional truck drivers to work for up to 17 hours per day instead of 14 hours per day. I predict that this will only increase fatigue and/or decrease cognitive function among professional truck drivers.
  3. The FMCSA and other entities trust truckers enough to make wise driving decisions when the Hours of Service regulations are suspended, such as when an impending weather system threatens to bring hardship to an area. However, it seems that the FMCSA does not trust truckers to make wise driving decisions “the rest of the time.”
  4. Professional truck drivers are individual human beings with individual needs, and therefore must not be micromanaged or treated as though they don’t know their own needs and limitations.
  5. By virtue of the fact that numerous sectors of the trucking industry have asked for exemptions from various rules or regulations over time, it is clear that the sectors need to be treated individually and not collectively.Pro truck drivers must not be treated with a “one size fits all” Hours of Service regulation because they:
    • drive
      • in different locations,
      • in different kinds of trucks,
      • in different traffic and weather conditions, and
    • haul
      • different kinds of freight
      • that have different requirements.
  6. According to this article, Robert Sumwalt — who is Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) — made the following statements in their comments about the proposed Hours of Service regulations change:
    • “Although the FMCSA has provided support that the individual changes to the regulations will increase flexibility, the agency has presented no evidence that the proposed changes will improve highway safety.”
    • “Further, the agency has not evaluated the potential combined effects of relaxing multiple aspects of the regulations simultaneously.”
    • “These proposed provisions have the potential to increase driver wake time, reduce sleep time, and foster inconsistent schedules, thereby increasing the risk of fatigue-related crashes.”

I encourage the FMCSA to remember that the Hours of Service regulations were originally put in place to prevent trucking companies from exploiting professional truck drivers.

Now it seems that because of arduous, inflexible Hours of Service regulations,

  • truckers are working harder than ever to survive financially while trying to stay compliant; and
  • truck accidents continue to increase.

Professional truck drivers came into the industry in order to earn money by hauling freight safely and efficiently from one place to another. The proposed Hours of Service regulations change will not allow them to do that with the utmost flexibility.

Todd Spencer was quoted as saying: “For too long we’ve allowed people that have never spent time in a truck to dictate a driver’s daily schedule. This has to stop.”

It is past time to invite seasoned truck veterans to serve within the FMCSA so that balance and reason prevail when it comes to the Hours of Service regulations.

Vicki Simons, President

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