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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - July/August 1997

Truckers Deliver A Piece of Their Mind

by Stan Hamilton

"Tell it like it is," we urged them. And, boy, did they ever.

"They" are about 200 truck drivers who took the microphone at seven "listening sessions" that were conducted in March 1997 by a team from the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) to solicit views on how the hours-of-service regulations should be changed.

Conducted throughout the country mostly at or near truckstops along major interstate highways, the unique all-day sessions and one evening session also drew safety advocates, carrier safety officials, a few bus industry representatives, and shippers from a total of 41 states and the District of Columbia, plus one driver from British Columbia.

Transport Topics, which was among the media covering the sessions, described the opening session as "freewheeling" and then reported, "'We want flexibility,' was the refrain from truck drivers. ... Instead of preventing fatigue, the current rules are causing it, drivers told the OMC. Any new regulatory scheme must take into account the real-life demands placed on today's truck drivers, according to many of the speakers."

And the Kansas City (Mo.) Star reported, "Most drivers at the session generally agreed that a change that would allow them to work for up to 14 hours straight, followed by 10 hours of rest, would work better than the current rule of 10 hours of work and eight hours of rest."

"[Current] rules are nearly 60 years old, before the interstate system was built. Many drivers said trying to follow those regulations by the letter was rarely convenient and often led to dangerous situations," noted the Star.

Most drivers supported the 14-10 scheme because it would allow a regular work cycle in a 24-hour period. Under the current rules, if a driver on a long haul maximizes his legal time behind the wheel, he may work an eight-hour day shift, then a midnight shift, followed by a swing shift. Drivers claim that this irregular pattern actually contributes to fatigue and drowsiness.

Other areas of consensus included the often-voiced opinions that the present "one size fits all" regulations are not practical for the highly diversified trucking industry; that logbooks should either be eliminated or greatly simplified; that rather than being arbitrary, the regulations should reflect a driver's body clock; and that there should be more shared responsibility among drivers, carriers, shippers, and receivers for conforming to the hours-of-service rules.

The word-for-word transcripts of the sessions - 1,200 pages in all - are now part of the record in a docket on an advance notice of proposed rulemaking about possible changes in the regulations. In addition to Kansas City, Mo., the sessions took place in Billings, Mont.; Ontario, Calif.; Doswell, Va.; Birmingham, Ala.; and Washington, D.C.

The next step will be issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking, scheduled for late this year, followed by more truckstop visits. The target date for the final rule is December 1998.

Stan Hamilton is a transportation specialist in the Office of Motor Carrier Planning and Customer Liaison, Federal Highway Administration. Formerly, he was an executive with the Truckload Carriers Association and the American Bus Association, and he was a newspaper and magazine reporter.