Truckers hope federal safety officials will end the mandatory 30-minute rest break they are required to take after eight hours of consecutive driving when new hours-of-service revisions are proposed. That proposal could come as soon as this month.
“The whole thing is tantamount to babysitting,” said Alec Costerus, an independent driver from Colorado. “There are times I have to stop in a bad spot just so I can take my stupid 30-minute break.”
Similar sentiments emerged among 5,200 responses to an early notice by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last August. Proposed rulemaking will be made public when the Office of Management and Budget approves FMCSA’s proposal. Another period for public comment will follow.
“I don’t need somebody to tell me when I need a break,” said Shane Rizzuto, who hauls oversize boats for Carthage Marine Transportation of Sarcoxie, Mo.
LAWSUITS AND LEGISLATION
In what could foreshadow the 30-minute rule, the FMCSA in December pre-empted California’s rule calling for a meal break after five hours plus a 15-minute rest break after four hours. The state and the Teamsters are suing the FMCSA to reverse itself.
Separately, congressional legislation is pending that would bar the U.S. Department of Transportation from eliminating the 30-minute break. The FMCSA is an agency of the DOT.
Not including the 30-minute break, drivers are limited to 11 hours behind the wheel in a 14-hour period. A 10-hour rest period follows.
Another rule recently enforced is causing additional burden, some drivers said. The federal mandate that requires all 3.5 million freight-hauling trucks in the U.S. to install electronic logging devices will be fully enforced by this December.
When ELDs took effect for about half the truckson the road in December 2017, they ended the use of paper logs in which drivers could erase delays and other details. Fudging is impossible with ELDs because they are wired to the truck’s engine controls.
The digital clock combined with hours-of-service rules stretched some one-day trips to two days. That made it harder for long-haul drivers to meet requirements for customers like retail giant Walmart Inc., which they say penalizes late deliveries.
BEATING THE CLOCK
Some drivers admit to speeding to beat the ELD clock. It is too soon to know how that affected the number of trucking fatalities, which set a 29-year record for 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
On shorter routes, e-commerce pushes regional haulers to get freight to distribution centers for same- or next-day deliveries.
Traffic congestion and bottlenecks on some interstates pose another hurdle to efficiency.
A 96-mile drive between Cartersville and Jacksonville, Ga., during morning or afternoon rush hours around Atlanta can take up to three hours, said Tim Philmon, a Florida-based driver for Landstar System Inc.
Before ELDs, truckers could stop and start their routes to avoid traffic congestion, Philmon said. He calls those the “outlaw days.”
The “Spaghetti Junction” of Interstates 75, 85 and 285 near Atlanta comprises the nation’s biggest traffic bottleneck, according to the American Transportation Research Institute. Sitting in traffic costs the trucking industry $74.5 billion in lost efficiency.
“We drive on a timetable set by bureaucrats,” said Philmon, who has driven 3.5 million miles in a 37-year career. “We need flexibility.”
FLEXIBILITY – MORE OR LESS
Among the ideas the FMCSA floated for comment are splitting the 10-hour sleep break into blocks, such as two five-hour down-time periods. Solo drivers could benefit because they could plan ahead to avoid big-city rush hours.
“Being able to stop the clock or getting rid of clocks entirely would give us the flexibility we need,” said Stephen Halsted, who with his partner, Sandy Goche, hauls time-sensitive loads like medical equipment.
One driver made a case for less flexibility.
“If everybody was restricted to driving eight hours a day, eight hours would be worth what 11 hours is today,” said Henry Albert, an owner-operator based in North Carolina. “The more you limit the supply, the more my time is worth.”