New rules for truck drivers dont give drivers enough leeway to make good decisions about when they should rest and when they are able to drive, an official with a Macon trucking company says.
Mike Jones, safety director for C&A Transportation Inc., said thats basically what he told federal officials before the new rules went into effect July 1.
I said, look, these are grown people, Jones said. They are not children. My guy knows if he has to drive all night -- and we drive a lot at night because traffic is not as bad at night -- and when we get to Charlotte, N.C., at 7 oclock in the morning and make a delivery, were tired, so we take a couple hours nap. But we cant do that anymore.
The rules were crafted to restrict driving hours more tightly. The biggest change comes from restructuring the restart that truckers use to reset their weekly count. The Department of Transportation says the revision effectively lowers the maximum average workweek for truckers from 82 to 70 hours.
In the past, a workweek could reset anytime after a trucker took off 34 consecutive hours. Now, the clock can be reset only once a week and if time off includes two consecutive periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The regulations also add a mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of driving, while reinforcing that truckers still may not drive more than 11 hours a day.
The new restart, advocates say, is aligned with the bodys natural tendencies to sleep at night. The DOT estimates the rule will help prevent 1,400 truck crashes, 560 injuries and 19 deaths per year, while affecting only the less than 15 percent of truckers who drive the most hours.
For commercial truck drivers such as Charles Ryser, when the wheels arent turning, they arent earning.
Until July, Ryser and his father -- who drive in a team from a base in Forsyth -- worked on their own terms. Charles took the day shift, while his father, David Ryser, got behind the wheel at dusk.
But because of the DOT attempt to cut down on fatigued drivers, Ryser now has to comply with rules that lead to more downtime and force him to switch shifts regularly with his father, breaking him from his rhythm.
How is that safe, if you have someone trying to alter their sleep pattern on a dime? he asked.
Changes in the rules not only make scheduling complicated for drivers and trucking companies alike, but they also hurt both in time and money, said David Haney, vice president of operation for American Material Services Inc. in Macon.
Haney explained a possible scenario before and after the latest rules went into effect. Under the previous rules, for example, a driver who was supposed to unload a truck Friday afternoon couldnt because something happened like a mechanical problem or traffic issues. So, at 8 a.m. Saturday he delivered the load, and at 9 a.m. went home. At that time, he stops his clock and is off duty for his required 34 hours.
By 7 p.m. Sunday, the driver would have finished his 34 consecutive hours off duty, is eligible to go back to work and resets his 70-hour clock to zero so he can work the next eight days.
Under the new rule, that wouldnt work, Haney said.
Even though the driver didnt work 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday or Sunday morning as required under the new rules -- the days were not consecutive off-duty days because the driver worked one hour Saturday morning to unload the truck. So now the driver has to have another 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. of being off duty.
He has to wait until 5 a.m. Monday before he can go back to work, and by then hes actually been off about 40 hours, Haney said. He ends up having to get more than 34 hours off to comply with the new rule. He cant pick up a load Sunday night ... so its cost him a load.
And Haney would have to find someone else to take the load Sunday night.
We can live with it, but its costing us efficiency, he said. You could make the argument that its going to make the freight rates go up. Theoretically, we should increase our freight rates 5 percent because it decreases our productivity by 5 percent, but the current economic conditions will not allow us to increase our freight rates by 5 percent for any reason.
But Jones said its possible some companies might pass along the increase in lost time to an increase in freight rates, which is going to affect your local bread price and mine, he said.
Honestly, I had a driver (Tuesday) who was in on Friday, but he couldnt leave until Monday morning, and I would much rather have had him in North Carolina on Monday morning than with a $125,000 truck sitting on our yard not making any money.
Benefits of law hard to gauge
Like it or not, the rules are here to stay, as efforts to roll back the changes pushed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an arm of the Department of Transportation, have failed. Earlier this month, the DOT won a key legal victory after the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the vast majority of the rules. The American Trucking Associations and the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, the two main groups that strongly oppose the rules, said that any further legal challenges were unlikely.
While its difficult to pinpoint how many truck crashes are due to fatigue, a study sponsored by the DOT concluded that 13 percent of commercial drivers who were involved in serious crashes were fatigued at the time.
Im not going to tell you that I dont think (the new rules) will help, Haney said. There is a possibility it will help some. I dont want my guys out there driving fatigued. I dont know how much benefit we will get from 30-minute breaks once a day, but we can live with that.
Opponents argue that all truckers, not just those with extreme schedules, will feel the ripple effects.
What they are doing is applying rigidity where there actually needs to be flexibility, said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association. Not all drivers jobs and businesses are run the same, and not all people run the same in regards to their body clock.
In the case of the Rysers, shipping delays can create unexpected downtime, potentially forcing them into restarts theyd rather not take. They flip their shifts to avoid that scenario.
Trucker Charles Ryser thinks its a misconception that drivers dont have downtime. Given the unpredictable nature of loading times, hes been delayed for hours waiting for a shipment, and thats time he can use to rest.
We have way too many variables out here on the road, he said. Weve got accidents, delays in shippers and receivers, traffic jams.
Estimating the overall value of the law proves difficult, as the DOT highlighted the unpredictable nature of the benefits, including reduced fatigue, coupled with the long-term health benefits of added sleep.
Studies show that working long daily and weekly hours on a continuing basis is associated with chronic fatigue, a high risk of crashes and a number of serious chronic health conditions in drivers, said Anne Ferro, the head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. She added that the agency had reached out to industry stakeholders and included some of their recommendations in the final rules.
But Dave Osiecki, the senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for the American Trucking Associations, isnt buying the health estimates, which he referred to as highly speculative.
The government has created hundreds of millions of dollars of health benefits on paper that are very hard to believe will ever be achieved, he said. His group led the legal push against the regulations.
From Jones experience and his research, he said hes not convinced the trucking industry needed the new rules.
All the data that I have seen says that our safety record has improved and improved and improved every year, he said. And our safety records are better since the last batch of changes in 08 than they have ever been in the industry.
McClatchy Washington Bureau writer Ben Kamisar contributed to this story. To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.