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New Rules of the Road for Truckers

 Rules for Truckers Intend to Make Roads Safer
by Dale Fehringer

The rules that tell truckers how many hours they can drive and how many they must rest changed this year.

The new rules could mean less pay for truckers and higher costs to consumers, but they could also mean safer roads, as better-rested truckers adapt 24-hour work-sleep schedules. And lives could be saved, as a result of fewer trucker-related accidents.

Nomads of the Highways

The men and women who operate long-haul trucks (also called "semis" or "18-wheelers") lead nomadic lives, often driving 10-11 hours a day, sleeping in their trucks, and being away from their families for weeks at a time. They must keep detailed records of when they work and where they go, and they are at the mercy of weather conditions, other drivers, and the whims of dispatchers.

Those of us sharing the roads with trucks want the people driving them to be well-rested and as safe as possible, right?

Effective this past January the "hours-of-service" rules changed for truckers. On the surface, the changes seem minor - longer permitted driving hours and more compulsory rest - but they could have long-range effects on truck drivers, trucking companies, manufacturers, and consumer prices.

Longer Hours, More Rest

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the Department of Transportation, regulates truckers. After several studies and a lengthy period of review, the FMCSA decided this past January to modify some of the rules for long-haul truckers. The changes, the first in over 60 years, went into effect on January 4. They allow drivers to drive longer each day, require longer rest periods, and use a more stringent method of computing working days.

Hours-of Service Rules
Old Rules New Rules
Driving Hours Allowed 10 11
Maximum Daily Hours 15 14
Hours of rest required 8 10
Maximum Work Week 60 hours/7 days;
70 hours/8 days
60 hours/7 days;
70 hours/8 days
Rests/Delays Count? Clock stops
during breaks
Clock runs

Because of the new rules:

  • Long-haul drivers can now drive an hour longer each day, up to 11 hours in a 14 hour period. The old rules allowed 10 hours of driving within a 15-hour on-duty period.

  • Drivers now must rest for at least 10 hours each day. Under the old rules, they had to rest just eight hours.

  • There were no changes to weekly on-duty limits. Drivers may not drive after being on-duty for 60 hours in a seven-consecutive-day period, or 70 hours in an eight-consecutive-day period.

  • The new rules also changed how drivers account for breaks during the day, allowing a single break of at least two-hours. In the past, drivers could "split the log" by going on and off the time clock for personal breaks or during deliveries.

The new regulations intend to move drivers from the former 18-hour on-off duty cycle (work for 10 hours, then rest for eight), to the 24-hour cycle our bodies run on-one complete cycle of light and dark.

Annette Sandberg, the acting administrator of FMCSA, said the new rules are "based on science," and "make practical sense from a lifesaving and operations perspective." By steering truck drivers to 24-hour cycles, the agency hopes to improve highway safety, as better-rested drivers have fewer accidents. Their calculations estimate nearly 5,000 trucking-related fatalities each year, and they think the new rules will reduce that number by at least 75.

Impact on Truckers

While the changes are still too new for drivers to have felt any significance, some are finding they can't work enough hours to deliver their goods on time. This is especially true for drivers who have multiple drop points. Each stop to load or unload goods can take a sizeable chunk out of the permitted 14-hour day.

US Trucker Stats
Long-haul Drivers 3,000,000
Long haul trucks 500,000
Truck-related fatalities (2002) 4,902


Some drivers are finding their daily routines changed as a result of the new rules. There are reports of no parking spaces in truck stops, although other drivers say that situation existed before the new hours-of-service rules. Apparently, some truckers are changing their eating and sleeping habits, starting earlier than usual and eating on the fly, in an effort to get in as many driving hours as possible. A driver who calls himself "Peacekeeper" observed that truck stop restaurants are almost empty, which he attributes to drivers "grabbing something and running." He has discussed the situation with restaurant waitresses and managers, who say many of the regulars, are not stopping like they used to.

Drivers who have a lot of drop-offs and pick-ups may begin to receive smaller paychecks, as the new rules make it hard for them to drive as many hours as before. Since most drivers only get paid when the wheels are rolling, the new method of computing work days and the longer compulsory rest periods could cut back their hours and pay. Impact on Trucking Companies and Manufacturers Thus far, there has been little financial impact on trucking companies. Ken Hoexter, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, said, "We thought the new hours of service rules for drivers would cause a blip in (financial returns) for trucking companies in the first quarter. That hasn't happened." For manufacturers, the new rules could mean higher costs of shipping goods. Dow Jones Business News reported that the new rules could cut a trucking company's productivity between 2% and 6%, with short-haul companies the most affected. Some trucking companies have passed those higher costs on to their customers (manufacturers), and trucking companies and manufacturers are working together to streamline operations and increase cost efficiency. Impact on Consumers Things shipped by truck, which includes most of what we buy at stores, will probably be more expensive, as the cost of reduced driver productivity is passed from trucking companies to manufacturers; then on to consumers. Will we feel it in our pocketbooks? Probably not, as shipping is a minor component of the final cost of products. But it will be there. On the other hand, our roads should be safer. A study in the Journal of Public Health Policy reported that nearly one in five long-haul drivers admitted to having dozed at the wheel at least once. And there is evidence that the 24-hour cycle will mean fewer tired drivers. A Federal Highway Administration study in 1997 found that working against the body's normal circadian rhythm is a frequent contributor of driver fatigue. So the new rules, which encourage drivers to follow the normal 24-hour cycle, should result in better-rested drivers and fewer accidents. Safer Roads Are a Good Thing

There is still disagreement on how the new hours-of-service rules will impact the various groups it affects. Everyone hopes that in the end benefits will outweigh added inconveniences and costs. The one thing all parties agree on is if it increases safety and saves lives it will be a good thing.