Workplace safety is an important issue. Most everyone wants to make their living in a way that is safe, or at the very least, not unnecessarily dangerous. In the transportation industry, and the trucking industry specifically, this is doubly important because of the number of lives at stake. If a truck driver is in an accident, chances are that theirs is not the only life impacted. Unsafe work conditions also cost companies money in the form of lost time, worker’s compensation, and potential fines. Taking all of the above into account, the FMCSA enacted new hours of service requirements starting July of 2013 that apply to most commercial haulers.
The changes in hours of service rules state that driver work weeks will be limited to 70 hours, that a new driver work week cannot begin until a 34 hour reset that includes two periods between 1:00 am and 5:00 am has been completed, and that drivers must log a 30 minute break within 8 hours of the start of their work day. These updated guidelines were intended to prevent drivers from operating their rigs while fatigued in an effort to improve safety and driver health.
As soon as these changes were announced, backlash ensued. Trucking organizations and private companies alike started in, going so far as to take the regulations back to congress, where the new rules were partially suspended barring a couple studies on their impact on driver safety and the potential financial repercussions. During Infrastructure Week 2016, the House Appropriations Committee enacted a bill that will essentially suspend the two periods between 1:00am and 5:00 am regulation by discontinuing funding for the enforcement of the rule, forcing the FMCSA to repeal the mandate, keeping the 34 hour break, but giving a 73 hour work week instead of 70. Thirty minute break requirements are unchanged. Other infrastructure funding issues were included in the bill as well.
I understand concerns about driver pay and the potential loss of revenue in companies affected by the 2013 regulations. In the trucking industry, time and miles equal money for the driver and the carrier. I can see how the loss of time and/or money was disheartening to people across the transportation sector. Several organizations have released reports documenting decreases in driver pay and production, the inability to service customers as well, the need for more drivers to haul the same amount of freight, and lower company profits. Safety, however, is the most important impact when it comes to these regulations.
A report presented by the FMCSA showed improvements in safety based on the 2013 regulations, both ARTI (American Transportation Research Institute) and the GAO (Government Accountability Office) both took issue with the way the study was conducted and the conclusions drawn from the results. ATRI’s own study showed different results, claiming that more trucks being on the roads during peak traffic hours had actually increased the amount of truck accidents.
I personally have drivers who are a part of my life whose safety I value over the politics occurring in the industry. I hit the interstate every day with my three children strapped into our minivan, where anything could happen. Because of these things, I think it is very important that HOS regulations truly reflect the safest policy for drivers and others on the roadways.