Out of the approximately 50 attendees that trickled in and out of the Los Angeles session and 50 callers on the line, drivers, carriers and trucking industry representatives dominated the conversation.
Alais Griffin, chief counsel of the FMCSA, kicked off the event, which included comments from individuals both on the phone and in person. Griffin opened by pointing to three goals that FMCSA has when looking at HOS: first, the agency aims at raising the bar to entry so only the safest carriers can enter; second, the agency wants to maintain a high standard of safety; and third, the agency wants to remove high-risk motor carriers.
During the course of the day, two different speakers asked the panel if they had ever spent time in a truck with a driver. Each time the question came up, the speakers were reminded that the panel was there to listen to feedback and ask questions, not to speak themselves, hence the term "listening session."
And the panel did listen. In general, speakers indicated that they'd like to keep the hours-of-service rule as it is.
Tim Fortier, president of Commercial Transfer, told the panelists that the reason they're holding the listening sessions is because of opposition from other groups that have an agenda.
"We're always going to have accidents," he said. "I know it's not politically correct to say that. You're not going to legislate an accident-free society."
But there were several issues that came up with the current rule.
The word of the day during the Los Angeles session was "flexibility." Drivers indicated there needs to be more flexibility in the 14-hour rule. For the most part, drivers have no problems with the 11-hour driving limit, but they feel the 14-hour workday is too tight, especially because of delays frequently experienced during loading and unloading.
Corey Artman, a driver who spoke, said the time at the shipper and receiver should not count against you. This is time most drivers are not paid for, he said, and despite delays, drivers still have to deliver their load in a certain time window.
Skip Nash, director of operations at Standard & Best, which provides safety management resources to the trucking industry, said his clients face the challenge of remaining compliant because of shippers and receivers. To follow the rules, he said, some carriers have to give up loads when a driver runs out of hours due to delays. If a driver can't make the delivery within the allowable hours, the shipper usually gives that load to another carrier.
To address this, Nash proposed a "public interest exclusion," or a provision that would penalize shippers that aid and abet unsafe practices. Others agreed with Nash, saying there needs to be more accountability in the supply chain.
Marty Hernandez, who's been driving long haul for 10 years, said it's even harder to shut down now for the required rest period, because several states have had to close rest areas, and he can't find a safe haven to park his truck. "Less driving for us long-haul drivers would be really bad," he said.
Attendees also indicated they'd like more flexibility with the sleeper berth rule.
According to Nicholas Pyle, president of the Independent Bakers Association, his members are actually more fatigued under this provision, especially team drivers. He said this rule forces drivers to shut down when they're not tired, while the other team member has to drive fatigued.
"We respectfully request the agency amend the current rule, and develop a special rule for team drivers," he said.
Sue Horner, a team driver for UPS Freight, said the 10-hour sleeper rule is too long. She and her husband loved the "sleeper berth split" in the previous rule. "You don't know when you're going to get tired," she said.
Tommy Hodges, chairman of the American Trucking Associations and Titan Transport, said the current rules have improved the quality of life for his drivers, which typically get home every week. However, he suggested the agency redefine the 10 hours and offer "flex time," or time the driver can use at his discretion. He also encouraged the use of naps to make drivers more alert - something the current rules make nearly impossible without using up precious driving time.
Jim Fitzpatrick, who has spent many years as a consultant to the carrier industry, told the panel the current rule does not allow for the driver to sleep when he's sleepy. "We cannot mandate sleep over time," he said. He suggested that drivers could take the 10 hours off any time over a 24-hour period, rather than requiring the hours be consecutive.
The discussion also touched on the issue of whether or not the FMCSA should mandate short breaks throughout the day. The general consensus seemed to be "no." Gary Mullings, senior vice president of compliance and operations at the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, said the breaks wouldn't be appropriate, especially for short-haul operations, which make up the majority of his membership.
"A mandated break makes absolutely no sense for our industry," he said. The average length of haul for concrete trucks is only about 14 miles, so breaks are not really needed.
Standard & Best's Nash said mandating rest would interfere with the business of those carriers he represents. Rests are good, but the way they are applied needs flexibility, he added.
"Mandating it is a can of worms that would be very difficult to enforce," he said.
The HOS listening sessions will continue Thursday, Jan. 28, in Davenport, Iowa. Griffin said the agency is considering holding a fifth session to accommodate those interested in participating.
Read about the first listening session:
FMCSA Commences Hours of Service Review with First of Four Listening Sessions, 1/20/2010