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Hours of Service and driver fatigue fueled reforms

Modern-day truck drivers are accustomed to the alphabet soup of acronyms that governs over-the-road trucking. Whether a driver is toting over-sized freight or pulling RVs with his pickup, he is familiar with SMS, CSA, ISS, HOS, RODs and other measurements that comprise the FMCSA which belongs to the US DOT. It hasn’t always been like that, however. 

At the turn of the 20th century, life on the road was remarkably different from the way it is now. Truckers were instructed to do one thing—get to point B from point A. No rules, no government-imposed obstacles. Those first trucks were allowed to roll 24/7.

By 1937, though, the Interstate Commerce Commission was developed and issued its first driver regulations, in an attempt to combat the unsafe practices evolving from the “get there and deliver at all costs” attitude emerging in the infancy of the trucking industry. And, not surprisingly, those first regulations closely resemble what are now Hours of Service (HOS) laws.

Those first regulations required truckers to take a piece of paper, a pencil and a ruler and keep track of when they drove and when they rested. It was an honor system. The rules were pretty simple then: 10 hours of driving time, eight hours off duty, 60/70 hours in seven or eight days and the sleeper berth time could be split into two periods—if your truck had a sleeper.

There was no commercial vehicle law enforcement to check logs and put drivers Out of Service (OOS.) Logging was solely an honor system. To make matters more intense, Motor Carriers were trying to take advantage of this new form of commerce by pushing their drivers to “keep truckin.”

With no real government oversight, the trucking industry cruised through the huge growth of mechanized transport following WWII and the ingenious development of the Interstate system that President Dwight D. Eisenhower is credited with during the 1950’s and beyond. In the meantime, trucks became bigger and faster, and highways became smoother with limited access made higher speeds easier to achieve.

To top it off, truckers became “organized.” While the International Brotherhood of Teamsters was turning into a significant player by 1905, following a huge strike on the Montgomery Ward Co., it became a dominant force following the Great Depression. By 1941, more than 530,000 members were paying dues to the Teamsters. And these drivers wanted to make lots of money.

A half million truckers, paved freeways spanning the nation, motor carriers leaning on drivers to get goods delivered, drivers earning more per mile combined to create the perfect storm that followed.

By the late 1960s, highway traffic was increasing and the number of accidents involving Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) was rapidly increasing. Several safety groups claimed driver fatigue was the cause of many otherwise avoidable accidents. Three independent studies were conducted during the 1970s and a relationship between crashes and driver fatigue was established but the results were not conclusive enough to convince the courts to adopt the proposed changes being recommended by the USDOT in 1979.

It wasn’t until 1984, when Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Act, that standards were outlined to ensure trucks and buses were maintained in a safe operational manner. The act also mandated that a driver’s physical condition does not impair his ability to drive safely and also that the motor carrier does not impair his ability to drive safely by placing undo responsibilities on him.

Despite everything, HOS rules remained nearly unchanged for 60 years. Seems odd when considering how much change transpired with trucks, roads and the growing financial dependence on trucking, between 1939 and 1999.         

But in 1999 a BIG change occurred.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was spawned from the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999. According to its website, the primary mission of the FMCSA is “to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.”

In the 23 years since the inception of the FMCSA much has transpired:

  • HOS rules are tweaked consistently to create a better balance between safety on the highways and business concerns. Driving time was increased but mandatory rest time was also imposed.
  • In 2003, the FMCSA was sued for ignoring “earlier admissions about the dangers of increasing consecutive driving time.”
  • In 2004, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FMCSA violated “the Motor Carrier Safety Act of 1984 by failing to ensure the regulation protects the health of commercial drivers.
  • A 2008 survey said that as many as 75 percent of all truckers cheat on their logs.
  • The biggest change of all came in 2015 when U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that, after 29 years in the making, Electronic Logging Devices are law and full compliance must be achieved by December 18, 2017.
  • ELDs and electronic logbooks are now in place and the FMCSA is studying the impact to safety.

The trucking industry—including RV towing, driveaway drivers and especially mobile home toters—has gone through too many changes to document, since that first 40-horsepower Mack bus in 1900.

While our government can be criticized for being slow to act, it has been consistently trying to make trucking safer for drivers and motorists while maintaining profitability. Every phase of growth and change in the trucking industry points to the legitimate need for safety and compliance.

Trucking celebrated a centennial birthday 10 or 20 years ago—depending on your recognition of when trucking began—but it’s only been since the inception of the FMCSA, in 1999, that enforcement of safety standards has been peaking.

The bottom line continues to be making the highways safe for everyone, but now compliance is not in the rearview mirror.

At Pinnacle, the safety, dispatch and recruiting departments work together to promote the safest environment possible. Clean roadside inspections are rewarded, and bad roadsides are penalized. Drivers with violations on their PSP and MVR are not leased on here and our dispatchers NEVER ask drivers to violate HOS laws to deliver a unit.

Promoting a climate of safety and compliance requires everyone to be on the same page, especially the drivers. Let’s all work together.             

Next UP: Making HOS rules simple to understand