The Federal Motor Carriers Association has proposed a rule change that would affect the hours that truck drivers are able to work each day. In Washington, political battle lines are drawn as the Democrats support the rules and the Republicans line up against the rules. But what would the rules changes mean for the truckers out there on the road, and what would they mean for the general public? While those two questions are easy to answer, we will take a hard look into another question. Are the rules even necessary at all, and who is pushing for them and why?
Let's get the easy part out of the way first. Under the current rules, a trucker "goes on the clock" when he performs his first job related function, usually a pre-trip inspection. This starts a 14 hour clock ticking. During this 14 hr period, the driver may drive no more than 11 hours. At the end of the 14 hour period, he is required to take a 10 hour break before he may begin to drive again. He is allowed to continue to perform inside of these rules, but he may not work more than 70 hours in an 8 day period. Any driver who reaches his 70 hours may then take 34 consecutive hours off duty to "reset" the 70 hour rule and return to work. If that confuses you, let me simplify it. Once a driver starts work, he has a 14 hr period in which he can only work for 11 hours. Once the 14th hour is up, he must have 10 hours off before he can return to work, and he is limited to a 70 hr work week.
The F.M.C.S.A. (Federal Motor Carriers Association) is proposing changes that will change the 14 hour rule to 13 hours, the 11 hour driving rule to 10, and limit the number of resets that a driver can take to one per week while requiring that the reset include 2 periods from midnight to 6 am.
On the surface, this doesn't sound like a drastic change. First off, why would a driver need more than one 70 hr reset in a week? And isn't it reasonable that his 34 hour break include 2 periods between 12 and 6 am?
The problem comes from the practical application of these rules. Let's start with one reset a week. So a driver goes home on Friday, and takes the weekend off. He returns to work on Monday with a fresh 70 hr clock, having satisfied the reset. He delivers a load in California on Thursday evening at 10pm, and Friday is a holiday so his dispatcher can't find him a load. He sits until 1 pm on Saturday, when a load is now available for him. Under the old rules, he would have a fresh 70 hours. Under the proposed change he would not. Why? Is it reasonable to believe that a driver who has two days off in one week will be no more rested than a driver who has one day off?
Now, let's assume that another driver delivers at 2am Friday instead of 10pm Thursday. When he is asked to load on Saturday at 1 pm, he has also completed a 34 hour break period, but since it started at 2am instead of 10pm, it would not qualify as a restart because it would have only included one period between midnight and 6am. Is it reasonable to conclude that the first driver is more rested than the second simply because his break started 4 hours earlier than the other drivers? Was his 34 hour somehow less restful?
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Doesn't it seem odd that nobody is questioning a personal injury lawyers role in all of this?