The FMCSA ( Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ) was started on January 1, 2000. They are under the USDOT as a regulatory bureaucracy tasked with reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities with large trucks and buses. As a part of the USDOT they function without Congressional oversight. Congress can enact legislation that falls under FMCSA’s purview to enforce, but that seldom acts. As such all the rules handed down from the FMCSA are called just that, rules that are enforced as law. Prior to the inception of the FMCSA we had what was called the ICC or Interstate Commerce Commission that had a much more common sense approach to safety.
Hours Of Service
I’ll start with Hours of Service ( HOS ) rules. Truck drivers had to “log” their time every day in a log book and keep the prior 7 days logs with them. Their time was regulated to 10 hours driving and 11 hours on duty. They had to get all the days activities done in this 11 hour block of time. They also had limitations on how many hours they could work in a week. If they ran an 8 day log they were allowed 70 hours in 8 days. There was not a regulation that stated you could take a certain number of hours off and “reset” your time. To do that you had to take 7 days off. The upside to these HOS rules was you could stop the 11 hour clock anytime you logged “off duty” or in the “sleeper berth”. That was advantageous to everybody. If you spent 3 hours at a warehouse getting loaded you could log in the sleeper and take a nap with no worries because your clock was stopped until you started driving again. If the weather was bad or you arrived at a city during rush hour you could park the truck, log in the sleeper and take a nap without being penalized on your time. Once rush hour was over you would go again and be rested. Even if you just felt drowsy for no apparent reason you could park the truck and take a nap with no time penalty. A rested driver is a safe driver. As drivers are predominantly paid by the mile, they have to drive a lot of miles to make a decent pay check. Under these rules a driver didn’t have to worry about running out of time or driving tired. He could stop when needed, stop the clock and be rested without the stress of loosing money.
The FMCSA felt that these were archaic rules and they found something better. They claimed that since the above rules were in place for over 50 years, they didn’t have the science we do today about the human body and circadian rhythms. They, with some scientists, claimed that if you put the body on a routine 24 hour cycle it will be better rested and therefore safer.
The first problem is trucking is not a 24 hour cycle and scheduled job. There is pick up and delivery times all around the clock. Second problem is by their reasoning, if you take the mandatory break everyday you won’t get drowsy and need a nap. How many of you feel the need for a nap at least once a day. Now imagine driving a 70,000 LBS and over, 65 + foot long truck through traffic drowsy.
This study led to the 14 hours on duty with an available 11 hours of drive time and a mandatory 30 min break after 8 hours and a mandatory 10 hour break after the 14 hours is over. Once the driver starts their clock they have 14 hours to get everything done. The only way to stop this clock now is to take an 8 hour break all in the sleeper. Now if a driver spends 3 hours loading and hits a city at rush hour he has to keep driving. The clock will not stop. If he stops he looses miles and possibly the next load. Due to the clock not stopping and the popular pay by the mile pay scale, truckers are feeling immense pressure to squeeze every last mile they can out of the day. They know they can’t stop and take a nap when tired because their time will run out and mess up the next days schedule. The up side is when a driver takes 34 hours off duty consecutively their clock is reset and they have a full 70 hours to work in 8 days.
There is another option for HOS that is the 60 hours in 7 days. This rule functions like the 70 in 8 but depends on the type of operation the company performs that determines which HOS rules they fall under.
Due to the FMCSA we have a nation of truck drivers who are pressured into driving during bad weather, driving tired and succumbing to the pressures of driving in a reckless manner to try to get that last mile. It’s not right for the drivers to give in to this pressure, but when the average trucker makes a little under $50,000 year it’s understandable.
EOBR’s / E-Logs – Electronic Logging
Truckers used to use paper logs to keep track of their hours of service. The FMCSA decided it would be safer to force everyone to use an approved EOBR ( Electronic On Board Recorder ), also termed E-Logs ( electronic logs ). With these logs there is no flexibility to get to a safe place to park if held up at a shipping company or a receiving company. What’s recorded on the computer is it, your stuck with it. So imagine you sat hours at the shipper and still had to drive 500 miles to a delivery in the morning. Now everything you do is electronically documented for all to see.
A common problem is a driver arrives at a shipper for a 09:00 load appointment for a load that is 500 miles away that delivers at 08:00 the next day. The shipper takes until 14:00 to get the truck loaded. That driver just sat for 5 hours out of his 14. That leaves 9 hours to drive, fuel the truck, get through rush hour traffic, eat, take the mandatory 30 minute break after 8 consecutive hours on duty and still make the delivery on time. Most likely the driver will have to take a mandatory 10 hour break due to the clock not stopping so now he will have to spend time looking for a safe & legal place to park. If he misses the delivery appointment it will have to be rescheduled taking more time which in turn translates to miles which equals pay. Having to reschedule means that driver could lose up to 600 miles due to missing the next load because of a slow shipper. If he makes $.43 per mile that equates to $258 lost on that paycheck. This is really a compounded problem. The rigid HOS rules coupled with the EOBR allows zero flexibility.
This also happens at receivers. It’s not uncommon for a driver to sit 7, 8 and even 12 or more hours at a receiver or shipper. This wrecks the whole weeks plans. With the EOBR, the driver can’t fudge the log book and make the run work. They are stuck with the incompetently slow shippers and receivers. Yes, fudging is falsifying your log, but the industry on the shipping and receiving end has no oversight or penalty for holding a truck.
Now with the EOBR, when the driver is done loading or unloading, many companies refuse to allow the truck to park on the property to get the mandatory break. This forces the driver to drive out of hours on the public roadways. If they are involved in an accident and it’s seen that they are operating the vehicle while over the allowed hours they are facing some stiff penalties to include homicide if the other party dies as result, regardless of fault. A case was tried in GA under these circumstance and the driver was sent to prison. Witnesses say he was well under the speed limit going through a green light when a car ran the red light resulting in the death of that driver. The prosecutor argued that if the driver was not driving out of hours he wouldn’t have been there and the accident would not have occurred. They didn’t accept the fact that the receiver had refused to allow him to park after holding him for hours. A paper log would have allowed the driver to make it look legal to find a safe place. Until there is oversight on shippers and receivers this is the reality we live in.
Another issue is cost. A large company with thousands of trucks can absorb the cost. Prior to the Dec. 17, 2017 mandate these machines, computers really, were about 70% less up front on initial cost and monthly fees. The big company gets a volume discount while the small company and single truck operation have to shell out thousands. A number of small companies and single tuck owner operators are actively seeking a way out of the industry as a result. This will take a lot of safe experienced drivers off the roads and be replaced with inadequately trained drivers with big companies like Swift, U.S Express, P.A.M, etc.
Currently the training standards for training inexperienced truck drivers, those that need to go to a driving school, are non-existent. The insurance industry has done more to raise the standards for training new drivers then the government has. It’s so bad that companies have drivers with less than 6 months experience training someone fresh out of driving school. Some companies have exemptions from the FMCSA to allow student drivers that have a CDL permit to driver while the trainer is asleep in the sleeperberth. How on earth is this promoting safety! It takes several years to know enough about driving a tractor-trailer to be able to effectively and safely teach someone else.
As of now there is not a set number of hours one has to have in a training school nor behind the wheel with a trainer. There is not an apprenticeship or journeymen’s program. A new driver gets our of a 2 to 3 week school, some community colleges and private schools have up to 6 weeks of schooling, then put on the truck with a trainer for about 3 weeks. At that point they are assigned a truck with no oversight and turned loose. IF the FMCSA were really about safety they would certainly address this. Currently they are dragging their feet on making any suggestions.
Where we stand now.
Currently congress has as bill that’s been introduced to extend the mandatory EOBR mandate. Hopefully it gets passed and eventually the mandate gets permanently scrapped. If company A wants to use them, great, but don’t force company B to follow suit with your model.
As I mentioned the FMCSA is looking at training standards, but the last standards mentioned were wholly inadequate and unacceptable.
There are no plans to bring pressure on shippers and receivers. Money talks and GE, P&G, GM, Good Year, etc. have more money and lobbyist to shut that down than trucking companies do.
What we have seen is the ATA ( American Trucking Association ) has member companies such as J.B Hunt, Schneider, Maverick, Werner, U.S Express, Covenant and others that they lobby the FMCSA to get things like the EOBR mandate in place and to stay away from more stringent training standards. This forces the more flexible small company into the more rigid mold of the big company. This doesn’t work and forces the smaller, safer company out of business.
IF the FMCSA were truly about safety they would honestly address and correct the issues they created. As they are not they have made it very clear that they care little about SAFETY and more about being part of a overburdensome bureaucracy that likes to make rules with no oversight for any reason they see fit to justify their existence. As of now they have created an infinitely more unsafe environment on our roads.