Officials said this was the largest turnout they have had so far. They admonished witnesses to stick to the 10-minute limit, and took no lunch break in order to try to have time for everyone to testify.
During a short mid-morning break, a convoy of about 30 trucks rolled into the Kemper Arena/American Royal complex, blowing their horns and waving to onlookers as they paraded in front of the meeting hall. The convoy was organized by the Iowa Motor Truck Assn. and included drivers, owner-operators, company owners and shippers riding in the trucks.
Witness after witness, some nervous, some emotional, some extremely compelling, made the same points that have been made in the other hearings so far. Occasionally some drew laughter or spontaneous applause from the audience.
Trucking company executives gave officials hard numbers as to what an estimated 25% decrease in production would mean to their bottom line - and cautioned that there was no way they could absorb those costs. The end result could be devastation to the economy, they said.
Fleets, drivers and owner-operators gave specific instances of trips they had calculated under the new rules and the old. Tim Jenkins, safety director at O&S Trucking in Springfield, Mo., applied the new rules to a real driver's trips in May. Under current rules, the trip took seven days. Under the proposal, it would take over nine. The change would cost this particular owner-operator $27,300 a year in revenue.
Fleet executives talked about how hard it would be to find the additional drivers needed to deliver the same amount of freight, how those drivers would likely be more inexperienced and therefore less safe, and how the proposal would erode morale and drive existing truckers out of the industry.
One driver said, "No amount of compensation will entice me to stay on the road if I have to be stuck in places like Lincoln, Neb., or Scranton, Pa., at the expense of being home in Tucson with my family."
Witnesses urged officials to give drivers back the flexibility of being able to split their sleeper time. Many drivers testified that they use this feature of current regulations to sleep through rush hours or through sluggish times of their circadian cycle.
"The trucking industry does not need the government tucking our drivers into bed," said Alan Hingst, executive vice president of contractor programs for U.S. Xpress. Hingst noted that U.S. Xpress has had no major accidents occur in the last several years during the midnight-to-6 a.m. time period the government is trying to restrict. However, 70% of their major accidents occurred during the 6 a.m.-6 p.m. time frame.
Witnesses complained that loading and unloading, or waiting to do so, is a major cause of fatigue not addressed in the proposal. "If the government were truly concerned, they would force the shipper to load and unload in a timely manner," testified Elizabeth Whitener, safety director for a 200-truck fleet in Springfield, Mo., owned by her husband.
Some witnesses tried to put a human face on the problem. "How would you like it if you had to be at work four hours before you had to start work, unpaid, and had to sit there and wait to go to work," asked Ron Hoffman, a 36-year driver for GSTC in Lawford, Iowa, of the panelists.
"I lost my leg, and DOT helped me get a waiver so I could drive again," said Bill Daniels, an owner-operator for Prime Inc. in Springfield, Mo. "With this proposal, all my hard work to get back to what I love to do would be in vain."
Based on their questioning, the DOT panel seems to be getting the message. What they are asking for now are specific suggestions for better regulations. One of the most common ones given them by witnesses was a 24-hour "restart" instead of the cumbersome and detested "weekend" provision in the proposal. "You can't store sleep," noted Herbert Schmidt, president of Contract Freighters Inc. in Joplin, Mo.
One of the prevailing themes of the testimony was the feeling that the government never really consulted with people who know trucking when developing the new rules. "You've never really asked the real expert, and that's the truck driver," Whitener testified.
Photo: A convoy of trucks roll in to the hours of service hearing in Kansas, City, Mo.