Owner Operators - The Grapevine

The long-awaited proposal rule on the use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) in commercial motor vehicles has now been published in the Federal Register. Under the proposed rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), truck and bus companies with a history of serious hours-of-service violations will be REQUIRED to install EOBRs in all of their commercial vehicles for at least two years.

The rule also sets performance standards for EOBRs and offers incentives to encourage industry-wide use of the technology. Under the proposed regulations:

  1. Motor carriers that have demonstrated a history of serious noncompliance with the hours-of-service rules would be required to install EOBRs. If the rule were finalized today, this would affect almost 1,000 companies and more than 17,000 drivers. (When was the last time you checked your record on SafeStat?)
  2. The FMCSA would provide incentives to motor carriers who voluntarily use EOBRs in their commercial motor vehicles.
  3. New performance standards would be mandated for EOBRs installed in commercial motor vehicles manufactured two years following the effective date of the final rule. In part, the standards would require the use of a location-tracking system, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.

The proposed regulations are not expected to be finalized until mid-2008 or early 2009. This should give those companies who have a history of serious noncompliance enough time to teach their drivers. This rule includes carriers that had a 10 percent or greater violation rate for certain rules during each of two compliance reviews conducted within a two-year period.

The violations include:

  • exceeding the hours-of-service limits
  • falsifying records of duty status
  • failing to make or maintain records of duty status

Companies and owner-operators that refuse to comply with the mandate will be prohibited from operating in interstate commerce.

Training Drivers on Hours-of-Service

A recent survey of drivers revealed that many drivers violate the hours-of-service. While many reasons were given, two reasons stuck our by far.

Lack of Knowledge

First, some of the drivers surveyed said they did not fully understand the hours-of-service regulations, which led to violating them unknowingly.

When the present hours-of-service regulations came into being in 2003, many carriers trained their drivers on the hours-of-service regulations. When they were updated in 2005, many of these carriers repeated the training. The problem is, did the present drivers take part in this training?

The hours-of-service limits themselves are fairly simple. Drivers are required to take a ten-hour break. After completing a ten-hour beak a driver cannot drive after the 14th consecutive hour after going on duty. Of the 14 hour "work day" the driver can drive up to a maximum of 11 hours. Once either 11 hours of driving or the end of the 14 consecutive hours is reached, the driver must take a ten-hour break before driving again.

Where problems arise is when the driver is delayed during the 14-hour workday. The time spent waiting counts against the driver's 14-hour limit. To try to make up the lost time, the driver may decide to "split log." The driver will try to take advantage of the split sleeper option found at §395.1(g). Split logging allows the driver to "split" the ten-hour break into two breaks, one of eight hours in the sleeper berth (which "stops" the 14-hour clock), and one of at least two hours (which does not stop the 14-our clock). The driver's 14-hour on-duty time and 11-hour driving time are also "split." The problem is, not too many drivers fully understand these rules.

"They want me to do it!"

The second reason given by drivers for violating the hours-of-service regulations that stands out was some drivers' belief that "the company wants me to violate."

While this may be true in a few cases, it is not generally the case. Most carriers are aware of the consequences of a driver getting caught, or worse, being involved in an accident while operating over hours.

Often, drivers believe their company wants them to violate the hours-of-service regulations because of "mixed messages." The driver has been told how important on-time delivery and customer service are to the company, along with how important it is to operate legally. When the driver must choose between being on-time or operating legally, if the message from the company has not been clear, the driver may choose to operate over hours and believe the company "wants it that way."

Training Fixes Both

A written log auditing policy and a solid, on-going training program can help in both of these problem areas. First, it provides an opportunity to refresh the drivers on the hours-of-service regulations, including the split sleeper option, which reduces the chance of drivers accidentally going over hours.

Second, the training session gives the company the chance to impress upon the drivers that safety and operating legally are the priority.

Now is the time to either set up hours-of-service training through a NTA service provider or use the NTA Online Institute to get your training 24/7 and receive a Certificate of Completion from DOT when you complete the course.

Hours-of-Service Supporting Documents Rule

A long-awaited final rule amending the federal hours-of-service record keeping and log auditing requirements has been on hold while the FMCSA further researches its impact. The FMCSA did not know when the final rule would be published, but expect some sort of timeline to be issued shortly.

The final rule is expected to clarify which supporting documents--such as fuel and toll receipts and bills of lading--motor carriers and drivers must maintain, and how those documents are to be used to verify drivers' records of duty status, or logs.

We will try to keep our readers updated on all these proposed rules in the future.