Last month Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) introduced a ground breaking bill which could help drivers better manage their hours of service. HR 5417 The Responsible and Effective Standards for Truckers or REST Act would allow drivers to stop the clock for up to three hours during their active shift. This could mean the difference on “take it or leave it” freight which might put them over their 14-hour shift.
Manufacturing in America is on a 19-month upward roll. According to the Institute for Supply Management, the Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) rose over 10% to a February high of 60.8%. This growth puts an increased strain on our ability to deliver goods. According to the American Trucking Association, 70% of all domestic freight moves by truck. They indicated that we are about 900,000 drivers short of the number needed to effectively move our current volume of freight. This is further aggravated under current regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Defining “At Rest”
The current regulations require that a driver log only 11-hours on the road after 10-consecutive hours of rest. This creates a situation where truckers must closely monitor which loads they may take and which to refuse. A driver is allowed an off-duty break of up to 2 hours which could extend his on-duty time to a maximum of 14 hours. That gets complicated however when the trucker wants to complete his trip without a true overnight stop. Safety is paramount of course, but one might want to further look at when a driver can be considered off the clock.
Riding Along with the Driver
Let’s look at an example. A driver in Southern California logs in at 7:00 am and makes his first run picking up a chassis at an offsite location. He heads to the Port of L.A., picks up an import container for delivery at a warehouse in Mira Loma. Exchanges the load and returns an empty to the port. Wait time in and out of the port, drive times and load transfers take him about 3 hours. For So Cal that’s pretty good, it’s now 11:05 am. He gets a call to pick up an export load in Bakersfield moving out of Long Beach. Bakersfield is only 138-miles from L.B., and without traffic he can make it in 2 hours 19 min. So, he goes to the new terminal and picks up an empty container. Drive time, waiting in the gate Q and load out takes an hour and a half; it’s now 12:35 pm. Traffic is building so it takes him 3 hours and 45 minutes to reach the warehouse and load out; it is now 4:20. Our driver gets back on the road and it takes him 3 hours 15min to return the load to the port. He spends 45 minutes getting into the terminal and another half an hour to drop the container and leave the facility. Back in his depot at 9:25 at night he has been on the road for 14 hours and 25 minutes. Prior to April 1st our driver might have been able to log in a sleeper break extending his drive time to 14 hours. That having been said he is still 25-minutes over and this load is not worth a solid 8-hour break. Our trucker would have to consider what a trip to Bakersfield is worth. Taking the load first thing the next morning takes a heavy toll of almost 7.5 hours out of his day. His profit has to be very good considering the time involved.
The REST Act
Representative Babin summarized HR 5417 as follows, “REST is aimed at modernizing hours of service for truck drivers. The single off-duty period would not be counted toward the driver’s 14-hour, on-duty allowance and would not extend the total, allowable drive limits.” The bill provides greater flexibility for a driver to regulate his hours, allowing him to determine rest times based on congestion, weather or other factors. Service hours may be suspended as a single rest break so long as it does not exceed 3 hours nor extend his total hours of service after coming off 10 hours of rest.
The bill has been applauded by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). Todd Spencer acting-president said “We thank Rep. Babin for recognizing the need to address the lack of options for truckers trying to safely operate under today’s overly rigid federal regulations.”
Challenging the current idea of truck safety
The current notion that strict regulation of service hours will create fewer accidents is being challenged by Babin’s bill.
Section 2 of HR 5417 Indicates that the livelihood of professional drivers is dependent on safe operation regardless of structure. Furthermore, the rigid nature of current regulation “often compels professional drivers to be on the road when they are tired or fatigued, during rush hour traffic or other periods of highway congestion, during adverse weather conditions, or when they are simply not feeling well.” Further it states “The current hours of service requirements have not resulted in statistical improvements to highway safety… Rather than decrease, the total number of crashes involving large trucks, as well as fatal crashes involving large trucks, has increased since the introduction of the current hours of service requirements.”
Spencer of the OOIDA, however, endorsed safe operation under the new bill stating, “We want to see improvements to highway safety and what we have right now isn’t going to do that.”
Moving the Bill Along – Or Not!
In July of last year Representative Babin opposed implementation of ELD regulations without further consideration from the Trucking community. He introduced HR 3282 the ELD Extension Act of 2017. This bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit awaiting further action by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Initial ELD regulation went into effect on December 18th with full implementation of penalties this April. It’s apparent that HR 3282 never made it out of committee. The current house bill was introduced on March 29, it has also been referred to the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Just prior to its initiation the OOIDA petitioned the FMCSA for a review of current regulations. Response from the American Trucking Association on the other hand, has not supported the REST Act. Sam McNally, ATA’s spokesman, said that while they believe there are opportunities to improve the current regulations they have not found enough data to support the current bill. So, where do we stand? Clearly the bill would favor Independent owner operators. Given the state of the current regulations without any modification do you think they will further deplete America’s pool of truckers?