In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has suspended hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for delivery of emergency supplies. Now might be the time to rethink the HOS rule.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep tired truck drivers off the nation’s roads? That was the basic idea behind the hours-of-service regulations, which limit how much time drivers can spend behind the wheel each day.
Then along came ELDs—the electronic logging devices that record when a truck is in motion. They were mandated by Congress in 2012 but were not required until December 2017. ELDs were supposed to keep everyone honest. It was assumed that a large number of drivers were cheating on paper logs and driving more hours than they reported.
Have these two initiatives—both designed to promote safety—actually resulted in safer roads? Sadly, the opposite is true.
In 2018, the first full year that ELDs were required, the number of truckers who died in accidents rose to 885—the highest reported number of deaths since 1988. In 2017, the year that most trucking firms began using the technology, fatalities were also up 4.9% from the previous year. (The FMCSA has not yet released the 2019 data.)
Why has something designed to boost safety had the exact opposite effect? It’s simple, according to Lewie Pugh, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). “Drivers feel they have to play ‘beat the clock.’ Now guys feel they have to go faster and run harder. When they are tired, they feel they do not even have time to stop to get a cup of coffee,” he says.
This analysis makes a lot of sense. HOS regulations and ELDs would work if drivers were paid to just drive for a set number of hours each day. But that’s not how trucking works. They must make it to a destination within that limited time window, even if traffic, weather, or accidents delay their progress. Finding a safe place to park overnight when the ELD tells them it’s time to stop is also a problem. As a result, drivers go faster than they should in order to reach the destination before the clock runs out.
Another statistic supports this analysis: The number of speeding violations issued to U.S. truck drivers increased 7.8% in 2018. Of those 146,945 violations, 10.3% were issued for driving 15 mph or more above the speed limit. Clearly, speeding to make it to their destination before they run out of hours is a prime reason for the violations as well as the accidents.
It’s time to rethink the HOS rule and ELDs. There are better ways to promote safety, which I’ll explore in a future column.