WEST DES MOINES, Iowa -- In January, the Department of Transportation issued new rules on the hours of service that can be logged by commercial truckers. Some food distributors said these rules may result in higher costs for shipping, driver salary and workers' compensation.
Under the new DOT rules, service hours shifted from eight hours off-duty and 15 hours on-duty, allowing 10 hours of consecutive driving, to 10 hours off-duty and 14 hours on-duty, allowing 11 hours of consecutive driving. The new time clock gives drivers an extra hour on the road, but takes back that hour in total on-duty time worked. Most significantly, the 14-hour on-duty shift includes break time -- refueling the trucks and the truckers -- and idle time that was not considered on the clock previously.
DOT said it made the changes to reduce driver fatigue (to save about 75 lives and prevent 6,900 property damage-only crashes annually) and to synchronize their work and rest schedule with the body's natural rhythms.
Yet at a recent meeting, food distributors generally chafed at the rules. Because of the rules, "we have to minimize the drivers' stops and their time at the dock," said Fred Housman, vice president of distribution for Hy-Vee here. "We have to get better in our efficiency. If a driver can't get that third or fourth stop in, he's dead in the water for 10 hours. The loss of productivity is longer than just the stop."
Housman and a panel of two others addressed the rules at Grocery Manufacturers of America's Information Systems and Logistics/Distribution Conference held last month in La Jolla, Calif.
Depending on the levels of driver compliance and improved efficiencies, "more equipment and drivers will be needed to move the same amount of freight and in the same time frame as under the old rules," Housman said. Nevertheless, Hy-Vee won't spend $25,000 a truck unless its volume increases, he said.
At Hy-Vee, drivers underwent a training session the first week the new hours were implemented. Housman said although the log sheets may be more simple to fill out, "it's the rule that is most disliked by the drivers."
More than the fact that on-duty hours were cut by one is that "when the driver goes to work in the morning, his entire day is spent on duty regardless of what he's doing," said panelist, Mark Coleman, vice president, Southwest sales, Schneider National, Green Bay, Wis.
A third panelist, Chris McKee, president and chief executive officer of McKee Foods Transportation, Gentry, Ark., raised concerns that the changes could actually make driving less safe.
"We're concerned about rushing," he said. "We're afraid drivers will quit taking those quick breaks because they're in a race. The clock is ticking, [and] they may have to shut down on the road."
In terms of actual percentages of utilization lost, the industry predicted it could vary from 2% to 20%. For Schneider, it's been about a 5% reduction, with drivers scaling back from about 500 miles a day to 475.
The rule the shippers and truckers are having the hardest time getting around is clocking out only after the end of the 14-hour shift. Under the old system, unplanned events like weather, traffic or driver error could be made up. The new scheduling makes it more difficult and less feasible to recover from delays and keep loads on their original schedules.