Flexible Shift Scheduling Promotes Safe Commercial Driving
Updated: Jul 18, 2019
Commercial truck driving is one of the top ten most dangerous occupations.
Trucking companies take many approaches to keep the job as safe as possible: safety training, policies & procedures, high-tech equipment, and sometimes health & wellness programs. Even the federal government has instilled regulations in this industry; all in the name of safety.
One regulation that has been a hot topic over the past few years is the hours of service regulation (HOS). This regulation restricts the amount of time drivers are legally allowed to drive in a given day.
Trucking is a challenging job, and sometimes rules that are not dynamic can make it more challenging. It’s also challenging for lawmakers to write the regulations optimally so that they benefit as many drivers as possible. There is a gap of understanding between trucking companies and lawmakers. Luckily, there are organizations dedicated to bridging that gap, and today they have data from technology at their disposal to help lawmakers understand what the drivers are experiencing on the job.
Current HOS regulations at a basic level:
14 hours work time total per day
11 hours out of that 14 is the maximum allowed for driving time
10 hours of off-duty time is required before next 14 hour work shift starts
Drivers cannot go more than 8 hours without a break that is at least 30 minutes long
No more than 60 hours in 7 days, or 70 hours in 8 days is allowed
Drivers can reset their week by taking 34 consecutive hours off-duty
There are some exemptions for livestock, oil & gas, short-haul, and natural disasters
Over the past few decades, drivers were required by law to keep track of their driving hours in a paper log book. In 2017, the Department of Transportation (DOT) made a new requirement that drivers now have to record their drive-time using an Electronic logging device (ELD: a work tablet in the truck cab that drivers use to clock into work. It records the amount of time they are on-duty, driving, and off-duty). Since the ELD mandate took effect, it has been easier for the highway patrol to enforce the HOS regulations.
The federal government’s attempt at creating a safe environment for the industry is respectable. However, trucking requires a diverse set of demands to accomplish the job.
There are a wide range of factors that play into how the driver needs to make safe deliveries, and creating an umbrella set of rules that clumps different types of drivers together is not a productive approach.
For some drivers, the HOS regulations have made the job more dangerous than it already is. Allowing flexibility in a driver’s schedule will promote safe, productive driving.
The current HOS regulations have indirectly produced a symptom in which drivers are pressured to drive as much as they can within a certain time-frame. If a driver rests for longer than 30 minutes, it cuts into the work time he/she is legally allowed for the day. Once the drivers clock in, they have 14 hours from that point to drive 10 hours total for the day; resulting in a tendency to rush.
“The current rules force truckers to drive while fatigued. There are many operational situations where the 30-minute rest break requires drivers to stop when they simply do not need to. It’s either impractical or unsafe.” - Todd Spencer, Owner Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) President
Considering the uniqueness and complexities surrounding the many different freight types, it can be concluded that no single set of rules can safely be applied to every commercially licensed driver.
The numerous different load types each come with an array of navigational factors that pertain to reaching their specific destinations. With this complexity comes a spectrum of drivers needed to complete all of the different types of deliveries. Each driver is going to have their own personal needs about completing the delivery in a safe and timely manner. The driver is on the front lines, and he/she has firsthand judgement about all of the factors and obstacles that are between him/her and the destination (i.e. weather, traffic, personal health, load times, maintenance, etc.).
Scheduling flexibility into a driver’s shift will promote safe driving.
Drivers need to have the freedom to rest when they need to without sacrificing the opportunity to make money safely and efficiently. More flexibility would allow drivers the ability to strategically schedule their rest times during rush hours and bad weather, providing far less risky driving conditions and overall safer routes.
Because drivers are paid by the mile rather than by the hour, there is immense pressure to stay driving as long as possible in the 14 hour window. Additionally, drivers have other responsibilities related to the job: vehicle inspections, maintenance of defects & fuel levels, adherence to truck-weight restrictions, and sometimes load and unload the cargo; all without getting paid in some cases. When drivers are paid by the mile, they want to get on the road as quickly as possible, introducing extra risks stemming from negligence of the other responsibilities related to the job and staying healthy.
One of the reasons employee drivers are paid by the mile is to provide incentive to work harder and have the opportunity to make extra money, which can be an attractive component for an employee. A trucking company manager once told me that if they were to pay drivers by the hour rather than by the mile, some may take advantage of the system and take extra time delivering the freight so they can get paid more. Paying drivers by the mile incentivizes the driver to stay focused on accomplishing the delivery without wasting time.
There are examples of trucking companies who pay their employee drivers with a combination of pay-per-mile, safety bonuses, and ancillary payments for accomplishing non-driving task. These include loading and unloading, weight checking, and scheduling preventative maintenance. This is an example of how trucking companies are adapting their payment structures to promote safe driving in spite of the limitations realized from the HOS regulations.
Data can help bridge the gap of understanding between lawmakers and trucking companies.
The first HOS regulations were instituted in 1938, and they have only been modified a handful of times since then. One of the reasons why proposed changes don’t get approved often is because of the lack of statistical evidence in the reasoning. There are still many studies being conducted today about how work hours impact sleep quality and driving performance, along with what the optimal amount of work time for drivers should be.
Organizations such as the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and the American Trucking Association (ATA) are continually advocating for safer modifications to the HOS regulations. When these organizations approach lawmakers, they must present strong points about why the regulations should be modified by bringing supporting objective evidence such as data and statistics.
Electronic logging devices (ELDs) have generated vast amounts of truck data, and the ATA can use this data to support their reasoning when requesting modifications to the HOS regulations. However, there is currently not much data on the drivers themselves, and there are still many research studies being conducted to this day to obtain that data.
In order to help determine the most optimal HOS regulations, the drivers need to be able to show evidence of how they feel during the day. For example, if the ATA could present evidence that drivers are pushing their limits during the day and/or driving while fatigued, it can help to make a stronger case for why and how the HOS regulations should be modified to promote safer driving.
BlyncSync has created a platform for wearable tech designed to help individual drivers understand in advance when he/she can expect to feel tired. This allows the driver to optimally plan in advance when the best times are for him/her to drive and when to rest; reducing the risk of accidents even before the drive begins.
Our ultimate intention is for the trucking industry to gain knowledge through the use of our technology, leading to positive impacts on optimizing the hours of service regulations.