Commentary: Hours of Service Insanity

July 2014, - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Combine a truck crash, a celebrity, and an election year, and what do you get? An hours-of-service rules feeding frenzy on Capitol Hill and in the media.

Our celebrity-driven culture means that the tragic accident that critically injured comedian Tracy Morgan has resulted in a sharp spotlight on trucking safety, with all sorts of people who don’t understand a thing about our industry, or the rules that govern it, chiming in.

The Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock veteran was critically injured, and a fellow comedian was killed, when Kevin Roper, a truck driver for Walmart, crashed his rig into their Mercedes-Benz limousine, triggering a six-car pileup on the New Jersey Turnpike. Although he swerved at the last minute, there were no skid marks, and he was traveling above the speed limit.

According to a criminal complaint, Roper had not slept in more than 24 hours.

In a case of really unfortunate timing, the week before the crash, the Senate Appropriations Committee had voted to suspend the current 34-hour restart provision of the HOS rules while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration studies the impact of the rule.

Editorials characterized the move as a “gutting” of safety regulations, a “rollback,” and “undermining” federal regulations requiring drivers to rest. Some articles made it sound as if the move would completely remove ANY hours of service regulations.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, urged the federal Department of Transportation to force commercial drivers to use electronic logging devices to more accurately track the number of hours they are on the road.

Yet Roper had electronic logs!

Anne Ferro, FMCSA Administrator, hasn’t helped the misconceptions. In an article posted on the DOT website, “Congress Shouldn’t Roll Back Safety; the Steps We’ve Taken Keep Tired Truckers off the Road,” she uses the term, “suspending the current Hours-of-Service safety rules,” and cites numerous tragic accidents without any proof that the newest version of the rules would have actually changed anything.

Overlooked in all this is whether the HOS rules actually had anything to do with the crash.

We don’t have a lot of details about what the police found to indicate the driver was awake for 24 hours before the crash, but at this point, it appears that he was technically within the rules.

Walmart said after the crash it believed Roper was within the HOS regulations, and, in fact, the National Transportation Safety Board’s initial report said the driver’s electronic logs appeared to confirm that, although he was about 30 minutes from the end of his allowed 14-hour day.

That’s right. Roper may actually have been operating within those new regulations that everyone is complaining about being potentially “rolled back.”

The HOS rules, whether you’re talking the current rules, the previous rules, or the rules the American Trucking Associations has been trying to get adopted, can only limit driving and on-duty time and require that between work periods drivers take a minimum number of hours off-duty. But they do not, and cannot, control what drivers do during that off-duty period.

At this writing, we don’t know the details. Maybe Roper had insomnia and couldn’t sleep during his required rest period. It’s been said he had a long commute to actually get to work. Or maybe he was up all night dealing with some crisis at home.

We just don’t know at this point. Neither does attorney Joan Claybrook, the USA Today editorial board, or the many pundits who have weighed in.

One thing is for certain: Those in the industry pushing for some relief from the new 34-hour restart rules are going to have a lot harder time making any headway on Capitol Hill.


  1. 1. Rick Oyler [ July 25, 2014 @ 07:34AM ]

    Someone will ALWAYS find a way to be within the law & still have been not within that same law by using common sense! He was legal, but was he tired, & if so, why did he not stop & take a break? Was his dispatcher pushing him that last 30 minutes? OR could this accident just been something that no-one could have prevented? A TRUE PROFESSIONAL DRIVER WILL ONLY DRIVE WHEN HE OR SHE IS ALERT & ABLE TO DRIVE TO THE BEST OF THEIR ABILITY REGARDLESS OF WHAT SOME LAW SAYS HE CAN DO, & STILL BE WITHIN THE LAW!

  2. 2. Wes Oye [ July 30, 2014 @ 06:24PM ]

    Thank you for pointing out that the driver was using electronic logs! I would challenge you to research this: Many big companies have been using them for years now. What are their accident totals now compared to before? My guess is not much has changed. (Please don't print my e-mail address)

  3. 3. Harold Jones [ July 31, 2014 @ 04:51AM ]

    I drove about a million miles before entering management and have been in fleet management for over 22 years. Anyone who believes a rule change like the new 34 hour restart will dramatically impact safety has no concept of what drivers deal with every day. Drivers need flexibility to drive when alert and sleep when tired. Drivers need the option of taking a two hour nap anytime during their duty period and having it not count against their 14 hour clock. They need to option of taking a half hour break and not having it count against thier 14 hour clock. Drivers need management that cares more about the driver's health and well being then the freight in the trailer. Drivers need regulators and enforcement to use common sense in the development and application of regulations. Safety is a comprehensive complex endeavor that requires cooperation, understanding and commitment by all interested parties.

  4. 4. Curt Petry [ July 31, 2014 @ 05:03AM ]

    I am glad someone shared that the accident actually happened with The new HOS that is now in effect. I agree that 5 or the 6 parts of the rules are ok. The Restart provision is so confusing and the drivers don't know when the restart is available. It might be based on something that happened weeks ago & the driver may have to be off duty for much more that the 168 hrs that are required. This causes a big loss in productivity & affects drivers pay.

  5. 5. realsafety [ August 02, 2014 @ 07:27PM ]

    Decades ago the number 70 was pulled out of someone's ass and given to the railroad industry as appeasement to limit the trucking industry's productivity. Pure political payoff. There is no data now, nor has there ever been, that the hours you worked 7 or 8 days ago affects your level of alertness or fatigue today. The hours of sevice rules are a political game and cost real lives every day. They have never been worse than they are now. Politicians and bureaucrats who wrote them should be prison. Safe and highly productive hours of service rules are very easy to do, unfortunately too many special interest would lose a little money.

  6. 6. Lee Lenard [ August 04, 2014 @ 07:51PM ]

    Deborah I applaud you. Very good commentary and you have "framed" the story well for those with a thorough understanding of trucking, drivers, of how transportation works, and those who really know the nitty gritty of what drivers face each tour of duty and how well drivers will safely manage those situations if they are not severely restricted by July 1, 2013 mandates. Sen Schumer will never get it! Electronic logging (EOBC) is the most dangerous enforcement that can occur in trucking, more dangerous than the July 2013 mandate! I feel sure Walmart driver Roper was trying to beat the EOBC and make it back to his workplace before time expired. Anne Ferro just cannot comprehend that the July 2013 mandate PUT MORE TIRED DRIVERS on the road than ever before. It took away the driver ability to manage rest breaks and manage time to restart and to rest 34 hours and go out fresh even more than once in 7 days. The mandate forced drivers operating between 12 noon and 2AM to forgo their own safety to meet the demands of the mandate. This caused the loss of public lives plus in many cases the drivers. R.OYLER and H.JONES.....Yes to both of you, If somehow the Ferro', Schumer's and those writing articles in other publications could understand what you two wrote and promote public safety with driver responsibility.....somehow they think drivers are going to drive for days without rest unless rigid unworkable controls are in place.....NOT so, drivers for the most part are very concerned and do a lot alerting other drivers and really looking out for the public (unregulated nit-wits in 4 wheelers and SUV's that with wings could fly). We all watch out for them.


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