As expected, the transition to the new truck driver hours-of-service (HOS) rule, which took effect at the beginning of the year, has been a bumpy ride. Though truckers were given several months' notice to familiarize themselves with the rule's provisions, confusion reigned in the first few weeks. The Department of Transportation reported that truckers had made more than 5,500 calls to a special DOT hotline by the end of January seeking clarification on everything from the sleeper-berth exemption to the definition of a 14-hour workday to the procedures for recording hours in driver logbooks.
Hardest hit by the new HOS regulation have been the truckload carriers. Some carriers, for example, have been forced to raise rates for multiple-stop movements. The effect of the rate hike has been to make that freight fair game for LTL carriers, which are reportedly recapturing some of that business.
Not all of the truckers' woes can be attributed to a lack of preparation. Schneider National, the nation's largest truckload carrier, for example, says it has expended about 8,000 hours in IT programming so far to ensure that all of its systems comply with the rules. "In addition, we had to put together an hours-of-service bridge team," says Don Osterberg, the carrier's vice president of safety and capacity development. "From a sales standpoint, we had to educate our customer base on identifying problematic freight and to get their support to reduce non-productive driver time." The carrier also put together a training program to ensure that every one of its 16,000 drivers was familiar with the rules.
Despite its well-orchestrated preparations, Schneider still discovered some internal operational glitches once the rule took effect, forcing it to take quick action to eliminate delays. One move was to set up a procedure for quicker oil changes and for having mechanics perform minor maintenance on trucks while they're waiting in fuel lines. The carrier has also re-engineered some routes to ensure drivers can complete them within the allotted timeframe.
How have the new rules affected operations so far? "It's a bit too early to tell in any definitive way," says Osterberg. "There are a couple of things we have seen. Freight tendered late in the day for next-day delivery has been problematic. We've seen an increase in the number of relays we're conducting.
"The other thing we've noticed is that drivers sometime run out of hours at shipper or consignee locations. We've been able to resolve most of those problems, but it remains a potential difficulty."
As for customers, some have been more cooperative than others, Osterberg says. Shippers that also operate private fleets, which are likewise affected by the rule changes, understood the implications pretty well, as do large shippers, he reports. "At the other end of the continuum, some have taken a cavalier attitude," he says. "They wanted to see if it would really happen. Yet for the most part, they understand the rules reasonably well and are committed to working collaboratively."