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Not Much Change in New Hours of Service Regulations
How to Cheat on Your Logbook
What are Hours of Service?
The FMCSA is in the process of creating new hour of service rules. These rules dictate how many hours a day a truck driver can drive. The main reason for the rules is concern over driver fatigue.
Back when my grandpa drove a truck things were not very well regulated. As a result, drivers would drive when they were told to, or they would be replaced with drivers who would. As you can imagine those kind of work conditions are not good for highway safety.
When I started driving in the early '90s there were rules, but most drivers (and companies) I was aware of didn't take them seriously. It's hard to know if the rules are good or not when enforcement is spotty at best. Some of the ways we "cheated" on our log books, and often were taught by our employer are shown in the videos on the right.
In spite of that, there are some special interest groups that are pushing for new and better hours of service rules in the name of safety. One of the things they were asking for was an 8 hour limit on driving every day.
There is now a "proposed rule" posted online. This is not a final ruling. There is a period for public comment before the final ruling is made. There is a small possibility that the rules will change before the final ruling comes out.
In fact, the proposed rules haven't changed much anyway. I guess changing the FMCSA rules is a little like stopping a big rig. There's just too much momentum to do it fast.
10 Hour Rest Period
Drivers are required to take a 10 hour break. This break can be any combination of sleeper berth and off-duty time. This rule hasn't changed.
The 10-hour rule replaced an 8-hour rule. The original 8 hour rule was created to try to make sure drivers were getting at least 8 hours sleep a night. What happened was drivers would take an 8 hour break, eat dinner, do some laundry, watch TV, get a little sleep then get up for a shower and breakfast... all in that 8 hour window. The increase to 10 hour break was intended to add a realistic amount of time for eating and personal hygiene and still leave 7-8 hours for the driver to get enough sleep.
Many truck drivers, especially old-timers, do not like the 10-hour rule. After years of sleeping only 5-6 hour a night, they have trouble sleeping for 8 hours or more. Instead, they wake up early and legally can't go anywhere. By the time it's legal to move their truck, they are starting to get tired and want a nap. But due to the 14-hour rule, naps don't work anymore!
Photos of Major Truck Accients
14-Hour Driving Window
Following a 10-hour break drivers are allowed 14 hours from the time they start work until they must be finished driving. It's like starting a stopwatch. As soon as the driver does some work, whether it's inspecting his vehicle, or checking in at a customer's facility... time starts ticking down.
The trucker is allowed to drive 10-11 of these 14 hours, and the rest may be spent on a lunch break, napping, or most often, loading/unloading the truck.
This rule has not changed for most drivers. FMSCA did hear the driver's request for flexibility... a 16-hour exception that was available to local and regional drivers will now be available to OTR drivers twice a week. Working (even non-driving work) beyond the 14 hour window will use up one of the 16 hour exceptions.
The problem with the 14 hour rule is that drivers are suddenly in a hurry. The results? More speeding, more aggressive driving, and a lot more stress (think high blood pressure and other side effects of stress.) As more trucks are getting electronic logs or other "black box" devices, the days of "creative logging" are coming to an end. Drivers who used to cope with stress by changing a few lines on their logbooks will have to find other ways (speeding for instance) to get their job done within this 14 hour window.
Another problem with the 14-hour rule is that drivers who find it hard to sleep in their truck for more than 5-6 hours a night sometimes make up the missing hours by taking a nap (often during afternoon rush hour). Now, instead of getting the rest they need, they will be driving tired right through that evening rush hour. Many drivers feel this rule is a source of less safety instead of more.
More Creative Logging Tips
New: 13-hour Maximum Work Day & 7-hour Rule
What is changing about the 14-hour window is that there is less total work time allowed. With only 13 hours of work allowed, a break or two will become mandatory during this 14 hour window.
The biggest change is a 7-hour rule. Drivers cannot drive more than 7 hours after the last 30-minute break.
I think this is a good idea. A lot of drivers prefer to run straight through their driving time and have a longer break at the end of the day. But personally, getting out of the truck and stretching my legs... even to make a quick pit stop... is often restful and generally does help be more alert.
Many of the accidents in the videos shown here could have been caused by driver inattention. Fatigue is only one cause of that inattention though. Driving can be boring. A driver may have let his attention drift into a daydream or be listening to something on the radio. He may be reaching for a sandwich or his cell phone. There are a lot of reasons that a driver may not be paying attention at just the right moment to see a car swerve into his lane, or notice the traffic in front of him has stopped.
Even with these situations, truck accidents aren't always the truck driver's fault. Sometimes there are weather conditions, or unexpected events (like the car that suddenly swerves into your lane) that also cause trucking accidents. No one is making rules for non-truck drivers mandating naps, or logbooks to prove you were well rested when you started driving. While I know these rules are supposed to increase safety, they only address half the problem. It's up to individual car drivers to address the other half on their own where there are no rules. Think twice before you drive tired!
11 or 10 Hours of Driving
One possible change is to limit the driving day from 11 hours of driving to 10 hours. This may be the one part of the rule that public comment is most likely to influence as they have not made up their mind yet.
I think with the mandatory break after 7 hours that 11 will be safer than it used to be.
I also know that the final hour of the day is usually spent looking for a place to park. One of the reasons that we were given that extra hour in the day to begin with was because it's not always easy to find a parking place. Most truck stops and rest areas get full right around sunset. So if you were held up somewhere (usually when your truck was being loaded) then you may not make it to your planned stop in time to find a parking place.
This is why you may see many trucks parked on on-ramps and off-ramps, or in shopping malls overnight. There just isn't enough parking space at truck stops for everyone to shut down their truck at the same time. This lack of parking makes it difficult to park your truck after 10 hours, and by 11 hours you are probably parking on an on-ramp because you struck out at 3-4 truck stops in the last hour or so.
Live Video of Truck Crashes
I've always said they could keep their 34-hour restart if I could have my sleeper berth split back. The new rule does just the opposite. Rather than get rid of the 34-hour restart, they have just mandated that the 34 hours include TWO periods between midnight and 6am. Previously a driver could have two days and one night off. Now they have two nights as part of their off-duty time.
What does the 34-hours restart?
After 34-hours off-duty a driver can restart his 70-hour work week. The effect of this can be to give a driver who is pushing his hours everday a chance to drive more than 70 hours in a week.
Let's say that a driver runs 11 hours a day, every 21 hours. This is the most he can drive in the least amount of time. After about 5 days, the driver will "run out" of hours. At this point, he can shut down for 34 hours and effectively get an extra day to work for that week. You have to run REALLY hard to make this a benefit.
I would have been happier personally, and from the perspective of having to share the road with these super truckers if the 34-hour restart had gone away and left us with no incentive to drive more than 8-9 hours a day to begin with.
Off-Duty in the Truck
One final change which will have little impact is that drivers are now allowed to be "off-duty" in their trucks. Since this is the practice for most drivers anyway, and the previous rule was unenforceable, this will do little but ease the minds of a few new drivers.
Previously, riding in the passenger seat while your spouse was driving was considered "on-duty" time and counted against your 70 hours for the week (and could start your 14-hour window before you started driving). Most drivers would simply go back into the sleeper berth when they went through weigh stations or if the truck got pulled over and log it as off-duty anyway. Even electronic logs cannot tell what you are doing while someone else is driving, or if you are watching TV in your bunk or the driver's seat.
Have an Opinion? This is the Time to be Heard
This is a proposed ruling and is open to public comment.
If you would like to make a statement either agreeing or disagreeing with the proposal, then you can comment on the ruling online or in writing. Instructions and links for submitting comments are on the FMSCA website. (The comment period is open until February 23.)
Truck crashes can be horrible. As a truck driver I saw many after the fact, and a few in progress. There is a lot of potential devastation in a truck accident. I have yet to meet a driver who WANTS to be involved in a trucking accident. Truck drivers are mostly good guys who are just doing their best to deliver the freight on their trucks, be on time, keep their jobs and feed their families.
Why do some drivers "cheat" on their logbooks when so much is at stake? There are two main reasons.
First, fear of losing their job if they do not deliver their freight on-time. This can be aggravated by dispatchers who threaten to fire drivers when they call with a problem or ask to reschedule a delivery appointment because of delays in loading, weather conditions, or personal illness. If you are concerned about truck safety, then work conditions that are imposed by motor carriers and/or shippers and recievers must also be considered.
The other reason, which may not be immediately apparent, is that truckers want to be safe. Most people are able to recognize when they are tired, and when they are full of energy and ready to drive and be alert and safe. The hours of service regulations may be great for the average lab rat in studies used to design the rules. But individual truckers are not your average lab rat. Everyone is a little different. And every day on the road brings new and different situations that drivers need to adapt to. Sometimes drivers find breaking the rules is the safest way to get their job done.