The top safety and security executive at truckload and logistics giant Schneider National Inc. said a federal proposal to require truck drivers to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours instead of 14 hours will have the effect of reducing the number of continuous hours a driver can be behind the wheel, even if the government doesn't change the driving limit.
Don Osterberg told a gathering at the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals' 2011 Annual Global Conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday that a reduction in the total number of driver workday hours will have the "de facto" effect of cutting drive times because most drivers will not be able to complete a continuous driving shift of 11 hours under a more compressed work schedule.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a unit of the Department of Transportation proposing the new "hours of service" (HOS) rule, said it favors cutting the continuous driving limit from the current 11 hours to 10, but has waited for public comment before making a final decision. The proposed reduction in continuous time behind the wheel is the most contentious element of the proposal, with shippers and carriers warning that it will have a profound and adverse impact on supply chains that depend on truck service.
Under the proposal, drivers would also be required to complete all driving within a 14-hour workday and to complete all on-duty work-related activities within 13 hours to allow for one hour of breaks.
The entire proposal has met with sharp opposition from virtually every quarter, with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Kantor (R-Va.) the latest to urge the Obama administration—in an Oct. 5 letter to President Obama—to scrap the initiative and keep the current driver rules in effect.
Trucking industry sources believe the FMCSA is likely to adopt certain components of its proposal rather than take an all-or-nothing approach. Under terms of a legal settlement, FMCSA must publish final rules no later than Oct. 28, though the rules would not go into effect for six to 18 months. Opponents are also likely to mount legal challenges to any new proposal, which could effectively tie up the process for many months if not years.
A "re-regulated" environment
Osterberg told the gathering that the hours of service proposal, combined with the already-implemented CSA 2010 policy designed to monitor carrier and driver performance and weed out drivers considered unsafe, creates a "re-regulated environment" for trucking that will permanently change service levels shippers, carriers, and intermediaries had been accustomed to for decades. "Service expectations will have to be rationalized," he said.
In an interview with DC Velocity earlier that day, Osterberg cited statistics that the CSA 2010 policy will, over time, remove between 300,000 and 380,000 drivers of heavy-duty rigs from the road, a range that equals about 10 percent of the current big-rig drivers holding commercial licenses. Compliance with CSA, combined with the difficulty attracting new drivers to replace those who leave the field or retire, could potentially create a market of tight supply that will impact truck availability and push freight rates higher.
Osterberg said Schneider fully backs the CSA program, calling it an effective means of removing marginal drivers from the scene. "There should be no safe haven for bad drivers," he said.
Osterberg also voiced strong support for screening prospective drivers for drug use by testing their hair follicles, which detects an individual's drug use for a period going back months before the test. By contrast, urine testing, the only pre-employment driver screen allowed by law, only detects drug use for a few days back and can be easily subverted by an applicant.
According to Osterberg, Schneider tested 29,063 applicants at the same time using both urine and hair follicles. Of the total tested, the hair follicle sample returned 1,121 positive results. Of the 1,121 that tested positive from the hair sample, only 94 tested positive on the urine test, according to Schneider data.
In effect, the hair test caught 1,027 drug users who otherwise would not have been caught had Schneider just used the urine-based testing protocol, Osterberg said.