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Time Stands Still

The dawn of a new year brings back the same old problems

By:  David Heller, CDS

I was thinking of how much fun it would be to regale you with new and exciting mandates and regulations that would have a positive impact on the trucking industry and your daily operations in the new year. Unfortunately, I can’t really deliver that news, at least not with a straight face.

In looking back over my columns from the previous year, heck, the previous two years or even three, I could make a few changes to them and run them as new, never-before-seen words that not only relate to the industry today, but to the industry that was several years ago. I could be my very own ghostwriter when I take vacations, as the news about this industry continuously stays the same.

Infrastructure funding? Yes, that’s due to be a highly contested issue yet again this year. Only time will tell if the two sides can come together and make some smart decisions to better support the Highway Trust Fund. Electronic logging devices? Yes, we are still waiting on those. Drug and alcohol clearinghouse? Same thing. Yet, no truer words have been spoken regarding an industry issue and its ability to be omnipresent than hours-of-service regulations.

The regulations have basically been in limbo since 1995 when Congress directed the Dept. of Transportation to establish new rules that incorporated the latest science about human fatigue and alertness. This has led us to where we are today, at a point where the uncertainty of the hours of service are still affecting an industry and haunting us with its unknowns.

This month’s column is being written on the heels of a congressional subcommittee hearing regarding the hours-of-service regulations and the mark these newest regulations have already made on the industry. That being said, it was no surprise that the subcommittee members were challenging the status of delayed research on the 34-hour restart provisions and even questioned the agency’s wherewithal to move forward on a rule that had not been thoroughly studied in the first place. In a nutshell, the testimony provided in this hearing certainly didn’t go anywhere in support of the most recent hours-of-service regulations or in deciding that these rules are best serving the trucking industry and the motoring public with which we share the roads.

Adding further fuel to the fire, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) identified significant operational and economic impacts from the new rules in its most recent study. The research highlighted a productivity loss by over 80% of the carriers surveyed; 82.5% of the drivers surveyed reported a negative impact on their quality of life; and 66% have reported an increased level of fatigue. These numbers speak nothing of the decrease in pay that the drivers have reported. Are these really the impacts that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was hoping to have? With these numbers reported by ATRI, I am certain increased levels of stress by the driver population are taking their toll as well.

As you can see, we are not anywhere near the end of the hours-of-service debate, and 2014 will certainly be another year that the argument rages on. My only hope is that by the time I write this column for 2015, we have much better answers for our hours-of-service questions and a clearer timeline for other long-awaited rules that would actually help the industry and its operations.

February 2014