The 270-page proposal would have far-reaching consequences by covering more than 505,000 companies employing 6.4 million truck drivers who drive trucks of 10,000 pounds GVW or more and whose business requires crossing a state line. According to the DOT, by decreasing the number of hours a trucker drives, it would prevent approximately 2,600 crashes annually that are attributable to truck driver fatigue. Furthermore, this would save 115 lives annually and prevent 2,995 serious injuries. There is some justification for the DOT's assertion. A 1998 study by the University of Wisconsin in Eau Claire surveyed truckers at Midwest truck stops, who revealed that 54 percent of them exceeded the federal hours-of-service rule more than once a month and about 15 percent admitted to breaking the rule up to 16 times a month. Although 45 percent of the truckers said they followed the hours-of-service rules, only 16 percent believed other drivers told the truth in their log books, which are used to monitor compliance to the rule. It is against this backdrop that the DOT announced at a press conference on April 25, 2000, that it would hold seven public hearings to solicit public comment about rewriting the 1937 law (last modified in 1962), which governs the number of hours a trucker can drive. The proposed changes would replace the current 15-hour shift, including a maximum 10 hours driving time, with a 12-hour workday. It would make no distinction between on-duty time and driving times. DOT wants to include waiting time, as well as loading and unloading times, in a driver's shift. Not Everyone Likes the DOT Proposal Critics of the proposed rule change far outweigh the supporters. For example, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimates that these revisions would result in a 20-percent cut in the amount of time a driver can work in a day (including both driving and non-driving work time) from today's 15 hours down to 12 hours. Furthermore, the ATA estimates that reducing the work day from 15 to 12 hours will require companies to place more than 100,000 additional trucks on the road. A number of industries are objecting to the proposal. For instance, the American Bakers Association says its member bakeries are increasingly being pressured to provide seven-days-a-week deliveries to meet both consumer and store demands for fresh-baked goods. However, just-in-time morning deliveries and baking operations could be hampered under the proposed hours-of-service change. Drivers for the snack food industry, bottled water companies, and moving companies do more loading and unloading than the average trucker and are concerned about the proposed rule changes. By doing away with the distinction between on-duty time and driving time, coupled with the proposed decrease in work hours, some drivers in these industries potentially could exceed the hours-of-service rule, even though their driving routes remain the same. Since these drivers spend much of their time loading and unloading product, this proposed rule change, along with the reduced work hours, would actually decrease the amount of time they can drive. The Need to Modify the Proposed Rule Change I am an advocate of highway safety; however, the proposed rule needs to be modified. Why? First, the new rule would require companies to put more trucks on the road to compensate for decreased drive periods. In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that the fleet industry will have to hire 49,000 new truck drivers to make up the 586,000 miles lost by enforcing the proposed 12-hour limit. The number is in addition to the 80,000 drivers presently needed to fill vacancies created by attrition and the ongoing driver shortage. The net result will be more trucks on the nation's roads, an increase in gridlock for many highways, increased emissions, and possibly more accidents. The proposed law needs to make a distinction between on-duty time and driving time. The time spent loading and unloading a truck should not be included in drive time. This will only force truckers to drive faster, and perhaps, more recklessly, to make their rounds while staying in compliance with the hours-of-service rule. In addition, this will severely impact the productivity of many industries that have adopted just-in-time deliveries for their manufacturing operations. These arguments were made at the seven public hearings. Now that the deadline for public comment has been extended to Oct. 30, 2000, let's hope the DOT listens. Let me know what you think.

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet