You may recall about this time in 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) introduced its first attempt to revise the hours-of-service rules for commercial motor vehicle operators for the first time since 1939.
Its purpose was to improve highway safety and help reduce the number of truck crashes and related fatalities and injuries by addressing commercial motor vehicle driver fatigue. However, the furor it caused was unbelievable. Everyone hated it!
People and organizations that always take opposite sides and never agree on anything agreed the new rules were horrendous. While the new rules stunk, at least you can say they brought people together. Recognizing they made a major faux pas, the FMCSA went back to the drawing board. A couple of weeks ago, the agency released its new revision.
Effect on tire dealers
Most tire dealers think the hours- of-service regulations are a trucking industry issue, and while it probably will change things for their fleet accounts and commercial dealers that operate their own long-haul fleets, most commercial tire dealers have little to worry about as far as their operations go.
Wrong! This standard will affect almost every business that operates a vehicle with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) over 10,000 pounds.
These rules apply to anyone engaged in interstate commerce as well as those in intrastate commerce if your state adopts the final rules based on these proposals in order to receive federal state matching funds.
You may be thinking, ``I don't engage in interstate commerce. I just pick up and deliver tires locally to fleets.''
Well, odds are these fleets cross state lines to transport their freight, and since you are servicing their tires you may be classified as engaging in interstate commerce, too.
This is currently a gray area and it's going to take a bunch of lawyers and a fistful of dollars to figure that one out. Either way, if your state is looking for federal funds-and what state isn't?-this proposed regulation will eventually affect you.
The biggest change in truck driver hours-of-service rules in more than 60 years comes down to this: two more hours of rest and one more hour of driving in each duty cycle.
However, the new rules do not contain the two most controversial features that were in the 2000 proposal. They do not require onboard electronic devices to track driver hours and they do not vary from one type of operation to another.
The new, science-based hours-of- service rules are based on the human body's natural 24-hour Circadian rhythms that scientists say are important for controlling fatigue-as opposed to the current rules that are based on an 18-hour day. The new rules cap a driver's workday at 14 hours, 11 of which may be spent driving.
The mandated rest break is 10 hours. This sets up the 24-hour day. The new rules retain the current limitation on weekly hours. Drivers may not drive after being on duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period. This on-duty cycle may be restarted whenever a driver takes at least 34 hours off-duty.
The new hours-of-service rules provide short-haul drivers, who routinely return to their place of dispatch after each duty tour, and then are released from duty with an increased on-duty period of 16 hours once during any seven-consecutive-day period. The 16-hour exception takes into consideration legitimate business needs without jeopardizing safety.
FMCSA estimates that without the extra two on-duty hours, the industry would be required to hire at least 48,000 new drivers, which would actually end up reducing crash-reduction benefits.
The new rules are a vast simplification of the rules the agency proposed three years ago. That proposal called for a 14-hour day with two hours of mandatory rest breaks, with a weekly break that consisted of two consecutive nights including the midnight to 6 a.m. period. It also divided the industry into five different types of operations and proposed different rules for each type, which would have been an enforcement nightmare. And long haul and regional drivers were supposed to keep track of their hours with electronic onboard recorders.
The hours-of-service rules that are in place now allow 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period after eight hours of off-duty time. Also, drivers may not drive after their 15th hour on duty in a workday or after 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days.
The FMCSA claims that the new rules will save up to 75 lives and prevent as many as 1,326 fatigue-related crashes annually. There were an estimated 4,902 truck-related fatalities in traffic crashes in 2002.
The current hours-of-service rules require a driver's daily log be maintained, and this is unchanged for truck drivers in the new regulations. Truck drivers who operate within a 100 air-mile radius of their normal work location-and who return to that location and are released from duty with 12 hours-will keep time cards as allowed under the current law.
While onboard recorders are not required by the new hours of service regulation, FMCSA plans to expand its research on electronic onboard recorders and other technologies, including evaluating alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for their use to ensure compliance with hours-of-service record-keeping requirements.
The agency concluded that the safety and economic data needed to justify requiring onboard recorders are not available at this time. However, there are several technologies that offer significant promise, and it plans to investigate them further.
FMCSA and its state enforcement partners will begin enforcing the final rule beginning Jan. 4, 2004. FMCSA's implementation plan provides the agency and states needed time to modify computer systems to reflect the regulatory changes, train more than 8,000 state and federal personnel and provide education to the industry.
In addition, the implementation plan allows businesses and drivers time to become familiar with the new regulations and make any procedural and operational changes necessary to comply with the new regulations. Through Jan. 3, 2004, drivers involved in interstate transportation will continue to use the current hours of service regulations.
The new FMCSA rules match changes being considered in Canada, which issued its own proposal for changes to its hours-of-service requirement this past January. Our northern neighbor expects to issue new rules in the early part of 2004. This offers the potential to further promote highway safety and trade between the U.S. and Canada, our largest trading partner.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) likes the new hours of service rules since it maintains they are a good mixture of common sense and sound science and allow the trucking industry to safely meet real-world operational needs. They also are easy to understand, easy to comply with and easy to enforce.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) has said that, ``on balance,'' the revised hours-of-service rules would be palatable for its members-the state inspectors charged with enforcing these rules. It wanted rules that correlated research findings with crash analysis, were easy to understand and enforce and were uniform across the industry.
However, the Truck Safety Coalition, including Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) and Citizens for Reliable And Safe Highways (CRASH) claim the revised final hours-of-service rules ignore truck safety issues. The two organizations said the new rules will not reduce fatigue by allowing 11 hours of consecutive driving time with no requirement for on-board recording devices.
They maintain on-board electronic recorders should be mandatory for monitoring driving hours.
So it seems that perhaps these new hours-of-service rules are good. Once again people and organizations that always take opposite sides and never agree on anything are divided and feuding, so it would not be a great surprise if the rules wind up in court. Once again, life returns to normal.
The final hours-of-service rules have been placed on display at the Federal Register and are available on the Internet at www.fmcsa.dot.gov.