As truckers we deal with the HOS (Hours of Service) rules every day. In fact, we live our lives by the dictates of these rules. The decisions of when we stop and start, rest or run, take a break, even what is considered a break are all aspects of these rules. Most of the (truck) drivers on the road try very hard to comply with these rules and operate their trucks in the safest manner they can within the constraints of these rules. Herein lies the problem. Almost all of these rules were made without a full understanding of the circumstances the average driver faces from day to day. My goal here is not to explain the rules, but to shed some light on these rules so “Non” truck drivers have a better understanding of the challenges these rules pose and why safety is sometimes compromised due to a lack of flexibility in these rules.
I think first of all you need to understand that every truck driving job is NOT the same. Some of the big box carriers are on contracts that allow for a structured schedule. These seem to be the style of operation that the rules are most suited to. Unfortunately, they make up a very small sector of the industry. Each type of transportation needs has its own special requirements. Outside the trucking world, most of you would recognize what most of us do as “split shift” work. We work when we are needed and then we wait until we are needed again.
Imagine if you were a store manager. You had to go in at 7 am to open the store. That’s all you were needed for. Your regular shift might be from 3 pm to 11 pm. If you were a truck driver, you would be restricted to only working until 9 pm because of a rule that limits you to a 14 hour window that you can work. You might have even gone back home and slept another 4 hours in that off time. At 9 pm, you have exhausted your 14 hour on duty clock. You would only have 6 hours of time to earn your pay. In that time, you could work it straight through and not lose any of that time. But, if you took a 1/2 hour break, you would only get 5 1/2 hour of pay that day and you would be forced to not drive anywhere when your shift was over.
Imagine if we applied this standard to some other occupations. First in mind is Doctors. Very much a profession depending on safety and sound judgement. Part way through an operation he may have to take a 30 minute break or be fined by the government and his score as a doctor is lowered on a website for all the public to see. What about firefighters? An early morning fire but they can not start work for another 2 hours. Police; you have a break in but they only have 3 hours left on their 70 hour clock. There are other occupations like pilots, boat captains, train engineers, construction workers, even lawyers, accountants, factory workers, food service workers, child care workers,…. The list goes on. Each of these occupations depend on safety and accountability. The difference is that everyone of these professions get paid based on time, knowledge, and/or skill. A truck driver (generally) is only paid based on miles ran.
You are starting to see the problem, but there is more. Because of the limited time you can work, you have to hire more people to do the same amount of work. These people you hire are likely to be less experienced and get paid less. Because they get paid less, they are in higher demand and the experienced people become worth only what they can be replaced for. Now your most experienced people become more complacent and start to look for better employment opportunities in another field. The overall quality has been lowered. Now you’re hoping the person giving you anesthesia don’t mess up!
As the public calls for more regulations to increase safety, the reality is that safety has been lowered overall and this occupation is less attractive as a lifetime means of support. It is important to understand the need and meaning of the word “flexibility” for well trained truck drivers to operate their trucks most efficiently and safely.
I want to leave you with some links to check out for a better understanding of these rules. I urge all to learn more about the real problems in the trucking business. There are many opinions of what should be done but these are from the representation of the safest drivers on our roads today. Thank you.
My testimony before a congressional subcommittee on HOS.
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