(Jan. 28) WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has finally submitted its proposed hours of service rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review.

Everyone outside that office, however, is just going to have to wait.

The administration said it has no deadline for making the rule changes public and the review by the OMB — which was submitted Jan. 3 — could take up to 90 days. After that, the rule cannot be implemented until 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.

Todd Spencer, vice president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, Grain Valley, Mo., said the trucking industry is a little nervous about what will be in the rule.

“Apprehensive might be an appropriate term for the most part,” he said. “It would be difficult for me to imagine a regulation that could come out that can provide the flexibility that drivers need.”

Spencer said there is little point in speculating about the rule at this time, but based on previous experiences with the FMCSA, he doesn’t have very high hopes.

“It’s fair to say that they really don’t have a clue how the over-the-road trucking industry works,” he said. “What we hope is that there will be a rule that will give drivers the freedom to drive when they are fresh and alert and to rest when they need to rest without fear of being fined or fired.”

PUSH TO UPDATE

The administration first attempted to change the regulations regarding hours of service back in 2000. That attempt failed under harsh criticism from the trucking industry, safety groups and others. It eventually was killed by both the House and the Senate.

Under regulations in place since 1939, drivers are allowed to work a maximum of 15 consecutive hours, with no more than 10 of those hours spent driving.

Spencer said those regulations are badly in need of updating, but he’s not sure the FMCSA is the right body to carry that out.

“Is it realistic for government at any level to believe they can tell somebody that they know when you need to sleep and when you don’t?” He said.

Spencer said many in the industry are concerned that special interest groups may hold too big an influence over government regulations. He cited groups that advocate so-called black box monitors being placed in trucks as a means to deal with fatigue problems as one example.

“The fact is the boxes will never be able to tell when a driver is sleepy,” he said. “But that is too often the approach that the regulators take.”

WAITING

Spencer said the hours-of-service issue boils down to one of time management. One of the biggest problems drivers face is the time they spend each week waiting while their trucks are loaded and unloaded. Spencer said this could be as much as 40 hours a week.

“That is the biggest economic drain, fatigue issue, compliance issue and productivity issue,” he said. “No fatigue countermeasures are going to be effective when the real situation for truckers is that they waste that much time.”

While the specifics of the new proposal are unknown, what is known is that the rules will affect all types of freight in the U.S., as well as how long Mexican drivers can travel on U.S. highways.

If the new regulations are too problematic, however, Spencer said the industry has one of two options.

“Our options are going to be either to go to court if the rules are completely unworkable or to go to lawmakers and ask that they intervene in some capacity,” he said.