A Closer Look At The History Of Hours Of Service And The Latest ELD Mandate Analysis

With the ELD Mandate having taken a firm hold, we wanted to spend a moment looking back at the root cause of the mandate, the hours of service (HOS) rule. Afterward, we will provide you, our readers, with another comprehensive analysis of the ELD rule, its implications, and three months into its enforcement, how the rollout is impacting truck drivers and trucking companies.

First, let’s take a deep dive into HOS regulations.

The Birth of HOS

Many may think that HOS rules arose as a recent reaction to trucking safety requirements, when in fact it goes much farther back than that. In fact, HOS regulations first saw the light of day in the 1930s. Yet, the details surrounding how they came into being is still opaque to many who are curious about how the rules were first enacted.

A look into the history books shows that HOS resulted from a combination of labor and government interest in bringing some regulation to a trucking industry still in its infancy. At the time, their goal was to protect truck drivers from onerous and sometimes unreasonable demands of trucking companies. There were little-to-no rules governing trucking operations at the time.

The first regulations related to HOS arrived in 1935, when Congress enacted the first rule. It allowed truck drivers of the time to work 12 hours within a 15-hour period. It also mandated that a truck driver get nine hours of uninterrupted rest and three hour’s-worth of breaks within a 24-hour period. The end result? A weekly maximum of 60 on-duty hours within a 7-day work week.

By 1938, trucking labor unions came together to demand that a truck driver’s mandated hours be reduced to an eight-hour day and a 48-hour limit work week. The petition was originally directed to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), but was eventually forwarded on to the U.S. Public Health Service, as the ICC stated they lacked the operational knowledge to act on changing HOS.

While the Public Health Service did not stake a specific position on HOS and recommend changes, it did note that a reasonable limitation of the HOS rules might be in the interest of highway safety. Yet, the ambiguity resulted in nothing changing for nearly three more decades.

HOS Back on the Table in the 60s

It was not until 1962 that the next major change in HOS regulations occurred. Finally, the ICC eliminated the 24-hour framework and replaced it with a work/sleep rotation scheme that mandated truckers be limited to 10 on-hours within a 15-hour period. On the flipside, the 9-hour off-time rule was also reduced to 8-hours after the 15-hour operating period came to an end.

The final impact of this rule change meant that OTR truck drivers could make their way across the country in fewer days but find themselves with no hours left a day or two before they hit the 60-hour, 7-day mark. Obviously, this presented a problem for all interested parties.

As a result, a short few years later, in 1965, another provision was added, called the split sleeper-berth provision. This provision allowed truck drivers to essentially split their time. This was when clock-running on-duty time became a thing. Truckers could then keep the clock running whether they were actually in the sleeper resting or not. While enacted with good intentions, the sleeper berth provision resulted in crowded highways and increasing truck crashes.

Trucking safety advocacy groups quickly jumped into the fray, demanding the government do something about the increase in crashes. They posited that the rising crash numbers were a direct result of truck driver fatigue. In answer, the government requested what would be the first official scientific study looking into the matter of truck driver fatigue.

The subsequent studies, which took place over a period of a few years in the 1970s, found that there was a relationship between truck driver fatigue and the higher crash numbers. Still, much like what had happened 40 years prior, the studies did not provide the government with enough to make any substantial changes. Although the DOT did recommend HOS tweaks, Congress never acted, and nothing was ever done.

HOS Unchanged Until 1995

The resulting lack of action on the part of Congress meant that HOS remained relatively unchanged for six decades. Finally, in 1995, Congress directed the DOT to conduct a new series of studies based on the latest science on truck driver fatigue. In effect, they wanted to know if the HOS rules needed to be modified in some way.

Still, it wasn’t until nearly another decade that anything was done about it. In 2003, DOT finally published a new rule. Unfortunately, the new rule was little more than a slight tweaking of the old rule. Since 2003, HOS rules have changed a little, but remain relatively the same. Many point to the fact that HOS has done little to decrease truck crash rates while decreasing productivity and the ability for a truck driver to get rest when it is needed.

For nearly 80 years, depending on which side you fall on, the hours of service rules have either increased a truck driver’s alertness or increased overall levels of fatigue, while doing little to reduce truck crash numbers. Will the new ELD Mandate somehow change the paradigm? Let’s take a closer look at how it fares a few months into its implementation.

Will the ELD Mandate Improve Trucking Safety?

With HOS in mind, many are asking the big question: Will the ELD Mandate improve trucking safety and save lives? The reality is we don’t quite know yet. The rollout of the new rule has been all over the map, with confusion surrounding the difference between ELDs and e-logs and AOBRDs. There has also been confusion surrounding the electronic transfer of logbook data.

There have also been reported problems with truck parking and fleets and specialty trucking groups receiving exemptions and delays – some say too many. Anecdotal reports speak of owner-operators who have yet to install an ELD in their vehicle taking back roads to avoid weigh stations and inspections. Does all of this add up to a safer trucking picture? Likely not.

Even the safest, most experienced truck drivers have reported fudging the numbers a bit on their paper logbooks so that they could reach a safe area to park at night. When a shipper or receiver puts them behind schedule because of an unexpected delay, they point to the fact that they often had no choice but to change the data to be able to safely park and rest.

In some cases, this has resulted in truckers driving faster so that they can make up for any lost time. Obviously, this is a large safety concern for all motor carriers. One ELD provider completed an analysis of ELD data and surveyed truck drivers attempting to find a correlation between ELD use and decreased safe operation.

Their research revealed that three-quarters of truck drivers surveyed reported being detained at a drop-off or pickup point for at least two hours every week. When they analyzed ELD data on the same truckers, it reported that they often drove 3.5 mph faster after an extended detention event had occurred. It was then that the ELD provider petitioned the FMCSA to provide a two-hour exemption when an OTR truck driver is delayed for any reason at a shipping or receiving dock.

Some have also pointed an accusatory finger at the FMCSA’s safe harbor provision, which prevents the FMCSA from using ELD data to enact regulations related to anything other than HOS compliance. Yet, exempted from that rule is the data gathered from AOBRDs or ELDs used for “other than business” purposes. This presents an uneven playing field where data analysis is concerned. Will the FMCSA alter course to change the current rule and provide a greater use for ELD data when it comes to enforcement? In the current environment, with regulations being eliminated, many say it is unlikely the FMCSA will move to make any substantial changes that result in more oversight or regulation.

Right now, the jury is still out on the full impact of the ELD Mandate on trucking safety. With temporary and permanent exemptions still being rolled out – along with the phased-in enforcement period – it will be some time before the data can be fully analyzed and the impact understood. Even spot rates will help paint a picture once they soften. Right now, the trucking industry is so busy, operators are focusing solely on operational needs rather than ELD data analysis.

We must return to the hours of service rules themselves when discussing the impact of the ELD mandate. Are HOS rules, which have remained relatively unchanged for close to a century, really effective at preventing truck driver fatigue and reducing potential crashes? Furthermore, will ELD data be effective in providing an answer that allows Congress or the DOT to act on making substantial changes to the rule? Only time will tell.

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