Truck drivers aren't putting much stock in the federal government's hours-of-service (HOS) rules. And the companies they work for don't appear to be overly concerned about compliance either.
More than two years after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new HOS regulations took effect, 77 percent of truckers admit to having knowingly violated HOS regulations, and more than half say they'll continue to do so.
These lapses are among the findings of an online survey conducted by Ol' Blue USA, a non-profit group dedicated to highway safety education. The group says it launched the survey to help it plan its future education programs. Duane J. DeBruyne, a spokesman for the FMCSA, says the agency is aware of the report, "but needs to study it further" before making any comment.
Though some violations may arise from ignorance, drivers also admitted to deliberately flouting the rules. According to the survey respondents, the most common deliberate violation is logging time as off-duty when they are actually on duty. Other common violations include using more than one logbook (21 percent), logging violations correctly in hopes that they won't be noticed (17 percent), and indicating that a team driver is involved in operating the vehicle when that's not actually the case (11 percent). Respondents indicated that they knowingly violate HOS rules six times a month on average.
As for why they break the rules, 17 percent say they feel it's necessary to earn a reasonable income. More disturbingly perhaps, nearly four in 10 drivers say their employers expect them to violate the HOS rules as part of their job.
Black box on board?
In the meantime, the FMCSA has taken some steps that might address the problem. Last month, it issued a proposal to require trucking firms with a history of serious violations to install electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in their fleet vehicles for a minimum of two years. The proposed rule would also provide incentives to encourage industry-wide adoption of EOBRs. "The goal is to get more trucks and buses using innovative safety technologies like on-board recorders that will improve safety on our nation's roads," says John H. Hill, FMCSA administrator.
If the rule is adopted, the FMCSA estimates that within the first two years, approximately 930 carriers with 17,500 drivers would be required to use electronic on-board recorders.
Whatever the fate of the EOBR proposal, it appears that there's also a need for more driver education. Nearly 70 percent of the drivers surveyed say the HOS rules are difficult to understand and easy to violate accidentally. Furthermore, 62 percent say they don't know where to go for answers to their questions about the regulations. Only one-third of drivers say they fully understand the regulations and have no questions about how to operate within the rules.
The FMCSA implemented the new hours-of-service rules in January 2005, the first major change to the rules in six decades. But the rules were challenged by several organizations that promote highway safety, led by Public Citizen. The lawsuit is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.
Among other provisions, the new rules allow an increase in driving time to 11 hours a day (up from 10), while at the same time limiting drivers to a 14-hour work day (down from 15), followed by 10 hours off duty. Drivers resting in a sleeper cab can divide their 10-hour required rest period in two. Drivers are limited to 60 hours on duty in a sevenday period or 70 hours in eight days, but can restart the clock after 34 hours off duty.
The anonymous survey of nearly 1,100 drivers was conducted over three months, ending in late October. Most (65 percent) of the respondents were company drivers, while 26 percent were leased owner operators, and 8 percent were independent owner operators. About 63 percent were involved with long-haul routes (more than 500 miles from base), and 32 percent drove regional routes (within 500 miles of base).