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Feds Waive Trucking Regs Ahead of Hurricane Florence. They Should Kill Them Permanently.

What are necessary public safety protections in calm weather become life-threatening red tape when disaster strikes.

Radislava Olshevskaya/Dreamstime.comRadislava Olshevskaya/Dreamstime.comHurricane Florence made landfall today, knocking out power for some 300,000 people and forcing thousands more to evacuate their homes along the Atlantic seaboard. Whether one is stuck waiting out the storm at home or seeking refuge on higher ground, those affected by Florence will need to be resupplied with food, water, fuel, and other essentials.

That means goods will have to be trucked into the storm-ravaged coastline. That would be a lot harder if the feds hadn't waived regulations that limit how much time the curriers of relief supplies can spend behind the wheel.

On Monday the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration—the body responsible for regulating trucking—granted blanket exemptions to federal hours-of-service regulations for drivers carrying relief supplies to states affected by Hurricane Florence.

Normally drivers are permitted a 14-hour workday, which allows for 11 hours of driving and several mandated breaks. Drivers are also prevented from working more than 70 hours in a given week before having to rest for 34 hours. Monday's suspension of these rules means that drivers will not have to idle away their time at rest stops and motels while storm victims eat through what fuel, food, and water they have on hand.

This is, of course, a sensible move in a time of a disaster. But as with the suspension of other restrictive federal regulations during times of need, it raises the question of what these rules might be costing us in calmer times.

Weather-related waivers are routine, says Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). "It's done for storms, whether it be for floods or hurricanes, it's done for snow, or dramatically cold weather. We watch with great interest looking for the mushroom clouds. We don't see them. Safety doesn't go to hell."

The current hours-for-service rules for truckers require that they put all their 14 hours of work in one chunk. Once a driver gets going, he or she can't decide a few hours later to pause the clock to take an extended break or wait for traffic to clear up.

This rigidity has been made onlyworse by new electronic monitors that track trucks' movements in real time, giving drivers very little wiggle room. Even something as simple as moving a truck from one parking space to another can start the clock ticking on a driver's allotted time on the road, with no chance to pause it.

Far from furthering safety, Spencer argues, these inflexible rules could make the roads more dangerous. They give drivers an incentive to stay behind the wheel when they would otherwise take a break to get some rest, skip heavy traffic, or wait out inclement weather.

Trucking companies that implemented electronic monitors prior to them being federally mandated found they could not quantify any safety benefits from doing so. Nor did they see any safety improvements from stricter hours-of service compliance.

Drivers report much the same thing.

Ellie O'Daire, a driver for Jim Palmer Trucking, has seen the problems the rules' rigidity can cause first hand. Having to take 14 hours of drive time in one chunk, combined with strictly mandated breaks, all enforced by electric monitors, does a poor job of accounting for individual truckers' circumstances or fitness to drive.

"There are a lot of ways where you get into situations where the computer is telling you that need to sleep but you're awake. Or the exact opposite, where the computer is saying you have hours to drive but you're very tired," says O'Daire. "This just runs counter to the purpose of the device."

More frustrating still are strict caps on how much one can work in a single week before having to take those mandated 34 hours off. Without any built-in flexibility, this can also leave drivers stranded nowhere near their destination—or, maybe worse, tantalizingly close to it.

Making matters worse: These weekly hours caps will also include work done by truckers that has nothing to do with them being behind the wheel. "Say a customer has you on the dock helping them load and unload the trailer in one pace, that's three hours less driving you can do in one week. It's just directly removing money from our pockets," says O'Daire.

In August, the Trump administration announced that it would be starting the process of revising these rules to give drivers more flexibility, a move OOIDA strongly supports. In March, Rep. Brian Babin (R–Texas) introduced the REST Act, which would allow drivers to hit pause on their on-duty time for as much as three hours.

Neither of these efforts is going to produce immediate change. So as Hurricane Florence passes, rules that are now seen as an unnecessary impediment to supplying disaster-stricken areas with life-saving relief will soon again become crucial safety protections we can't do without.

"In a perfect world [the regulations] would work perfectly," O'Diare says, "but trucking is not a perfect world."

Photo Credit: Radislava Olshevskaya/Dreamstime.com

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  • Homple||

    Ever drive a truck, Christian?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Did you photoshop this?!

  • DiegoF||

    Fuck no he didn't

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    Hey, this is my exact industry!

    The flip side is the dangers of fatigued driving -- on par with drunk driving according to numerous studies. In our company we see a tech on the road all day who comes home at midnight and his asshole boss calls at 3am for a roadside service call and he goes right back on the road. Just go, go, go, make that paper or lose your job.

    The FMCSA regs exist to stop this in theory; yet because the regs don't actually stop businesses from operating like this -- lets not forget some drivers would drive all day just for the money -- the Feds mandated the electronic logs.

    Rigid rules never mirror the fluid and constantly changing reality. It's a tough issue cause people do die. I suppose innovation is the answer -- automated vehicles could run all day with less risk.

  • Conchfritters||

    My 6 year old son asks that damned Alexa to play Six Days On The Road by Dave Dudley about 5 times a day, no fucking joke. I stopped running over to turn down the volume when he sings about taking little white pills and his eyes are open wide. If my son asks when he is a little older, I'll tell him Dudley meant aspirin. At least he has good taste in music.

    Thank you sir for your service to our country.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    If we drop the regulations, this will happen

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Or this.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Test your links, Skeptic.

    Or is that the joke?

  • Rich||

    "There are a lot of ways where you get into situations where the computer is telling you that need to sleep but you're awake. Or the exact opposite, where the computer is saying you have hours to drive but you're very tired," says O'Daire.

    Obviously the computer is not using a *Google* algorithm.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    They Should Kill Them Permanently.

    That's deregulation gouging!

  • Shirley Knott||

    So, a twofer win, then.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    I really don't care as long as drivers who cause wrecks are buried up their necks at a busy intersection. And fucking slow trucks stay out of the left lane.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    Statistically in crashes involving big trucks and other vehicles the 4 wheeler is at fault 70% of the time so it would be mostly guys like you at the intersection. And slow trucks are usually run by the mega carriers and governed at speeds well below the flow of traffic. But guess what? FMCSA is considering regulations that would govern all trucks well below the flow of traffic so things can only get worse.

  • perlchpr||

    FMCSA is considering regulations that would govern all trucks well below the flow of traffic so things can only get worse.

    Such a terrible idea. The majority of problems on the freeway are due to interactions between vehicles traveling at different speeds.

  • SIV||

  • DiegoF||

    Two song links so far without anyone being normie enough to post the Dead tune! I love this place!

    Let's do another!

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Ricky Nelson stole that song before it was written Truck Drivin Man

  • ||

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

  • DiegoF||

    We already did that one you goof!

    Here, let's do this one.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    How about some Jim Croce?

    Big Wheel
    Speedball Tucker

  • ||

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    She said she was 17, okay??

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Obscure truck song by obscure group:

    Truck Stop in Lagrange by The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash

  • perlchpr||

  • SIV||

  • ||

    Okay, I confess, I didn't look at the earlier links. I just always leap to share this because I actually saw that movie at the drive-in when it came out.

    Carry on!

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    Damn, you're older than me!

    Hard to believe Sam Peckinpah had his name tied to that movie.

  • ||

    Yeah - I was six, and I thought it was pretty dumb even then.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    In that case, you're a little younger than me.

  • ||

    Didn't mean to imply that I drove.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why don't they just get Al Gore to wave the storm away?

  • Bronze Khopesh||

    the curriers of relief supplies

    Leather has been and still is an important material but I don't think tanned hides, regardless of the amount, are really going to help storm victims all that much.

  • DiegoF||

    The Plains Indians would have disagreed.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    It's carriers, but Christian types with an accent.

  • Jerry B.||

    Or maybe couriers.

  • gah87||

    Christian may be suggesting that teamsters add a certain East Indian spiciness to their humanitarian endeavors.

  • Michael S. Langston||

    Yeah, it's ridiculous. I have family in the industry and those monitors have shut them down just two hours from home on Christmas eve. They call and we drive 4 hours to get them (and 4 hours a second time to retrieve them EMPTY rig... or they'd be stuck, in some cases theoretically for days).

    This isn't to mention tickets and points on their license. They get points even when ticketed in other states and in most cases the points are 2, 3, or 4 times what the standard citizen would get and in most cases, they cannot use the easy call the lawyer for higher fine and speeding becomes a parking violation. Additionally their license gets suspended with fewer points.

    None of which makes sense other than its a hell of a revenue generator and certainly gives those enforcing these laws a greater ability to get their authoritarianism on, but it's grossly unfair.

    It's like OSHA'S wet dream regulation, all derived from asking 3rd graders what would help driver safety, and then it was all imposed verbatim.

    All because trucks cross state boundaries.

  • DiegoF||

    Given where the straw bans come from (literally a third grader--perhaps you were making reference to exactly that), I wouldn't be particularly surprised if they did get it from asking third graders, and then proudly trumpeted that fact. Next stop: votes for third graders, since they show so much more common sense, wisdom, and leadership on issues like this than adults these days who have failed to act.

  • Longtobefree||

    Well, if a third grader is smart enough to know they are the 'wrong' sex, they are smart enough to write legislation, right?

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    As it happens I'm in the business of moving heavy shit from place to place. You know, virtually everything available for purchase from raw iron to cars to everything on the shelf at Walmart to the gasoline you 4 wheelers put in your Prius. Just about everything except the earth and sky. My business is heavily regulated by a bunch of assholes sitting at desks in DC who run an agency known as FMCSA (for a little insight into how they operate: https://tinyurl.com/br293zp)
    I could write a book about how the federal government has fucked up the trucking business in general and truck drivers specifically but I'll restrain myself here. During the Obama years small carriers, usually at the urging of big carriers, got hammered with new regulations. One of their primary obsessions is the Hours of Service drivers are required to abide by. Turns out people who sit at a desk all day have the uncanny ability to determine when other people can work, when they can sleep, when they're working, when they're not working all through the magic of a mandatory Electronic Logging Device (tracking device) now required on every commercial vehicle in the U.S. This despite the fact that their own crash data reveals no safety benefit whatsoever.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    This is a zero tolerance mandate and It has been a very expensive undertaking for small businesses and has led to major supply chain disruption and increased freight costs across the industry. Trump's FMCSA has actually begun to roll back some of the more oppressive shit that Obama piled on us giving drivers some reasonable flexibility when faced with impossible electronic timelines. Needless to say Trump will get the trucker vote in 2020.

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    Better we should rely on the judgment of half-educated drivers working for half-educated employers, all of whom have a profit incentive inclined to override any judgment the sensible among them might possess, at the risk of highway mayhem?

    Keep up the good thinking, goober.

  • Conchfritters||

    That's me in the 4 wheeler, and thank you for your service. I still have my dad's old CB in my car - you can only listen to so much rock and roll, and Art Bell isn't on the radio anymore (RIP). Talked to a few truckers on channel 19 last summer when I drove from shaky town to east of Counciltucky, and they all agreed it couldn't get much worse than where the industry was just a couple of years ago.

  • Agammamon||

    Feds Waive Trucking Regs Ahead of Hurricane Florence. They Should Kill Them Permanently.
    What are necessary public safety protections in calm weather become life-threatening red tape when disaster strikes.

    Your subhead contradicts your headline.

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    It also assumes the "necessary public safety protections" are both safe and necessary, contradicted later in the piece.

    The current hours-for-service rules for truckers require that they put all their 14 hours of work in one chunk. Once a driver gets going, he or she can't decide a few hours later to pause the clock to take an extended break or wait for traffic to clear up.

  • Reverendcaptain||

    What I was thinking. I lived in a country where overnight buses regularly run off the road, killing multiple passengers, because the drivers fall asleep. Seems like some regulations are needed. But this story doesn't fit the headline at all. Clickbait I guess.

  • Reverendcaptain||

    What I was thinking. I lived in a country where overnight buses regularly run off the road, killing multiple passengers, because the drivers fall asleep. Seems like some regulations are needed. But this story doesn't fit the headline at all. Clickbait I guess.

  • SIV||

  • BigT||

    If trucks have electronic trackers, why not Congresscritters? They are certainly more dangerous.

    And couldn't a truck be driven by another person, making the tracking thing irrelevant? Or is it implanted in your skin? (Haha)

  • Rev. Arthur L. Kirkland||

    I gather drivers were permitted to travel westbound in eastbound lanes as the storm approached the coast and citizens traveled inland.

    We therefore need a sophomoric article from a twenty-something faux libertarian right-winger declaring that this evidence establishes that government should get out of the way and enable sovereign citizen drivers to choose lanes without regard to direction.

    It worked during Florence!

    Carry on, clingers.

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