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Truckers Are Losing Sleep Over 70-Hour Work Limit: New HOS Rules

There was a good article published in the Wall Street Journal today focusing on the costs of the new HOS rules to the industry and the drivers: both money and work/life balance.  There are definitely some societal benefits to reducing sleepy drivers, but the data used by the FMCSA to justify the position on the new HOS rules seems suspect, in my opinion.  Trucking and truckers are just an easy target and slapping on new regulations is easy for regulators to do, because the general public is not going to spend the time to really understand the numbers, and of course they want safer roads.  It’s just not necessarily the trucks and truckers that are the problem.

WINCHESTER, Va.—A long battle between truck drivers and federal regulators is culminating in giving truckers something that many don’t want: More sleep.

The changes—the most significant overhaul of rules governing truck-driver hours in a decade—shorten the workweek, restrict how many nights truckers can be on the road and require rest breaks during the day.

The Obama administration says the regulations will reduce crashes from sleep-deprived drivers getting behind the wheel. They would effectively cap a driver’s average workweek at 70 hours, down from the previous maximum of 82.

Trucking companies say the sweeping changes, which took effect this week, will cost them money—by requiring more trucks to carry the same number of loads—with little benefit.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to enforce the rules by routinely checking drivers’ work logs, in which they are required to report their schedules, and imposing fines up to $11,000 for companies and $2,750 for individual drivers for each offense.

Daron Dean for The Wall Street Journal

The new rules aim to reduce crashes from sleep-deprived drivers.

The rules are threatening to upend the schedules and slice the pay of long-haul drivers such as Richard Allen and his wife Sandra, among dozens of truckers who recently pulled into the Flying J truck stop here one sweltering afternoon, just off Interstate 81 in western Virginia.

“It’s hard,” Mr. Allen said of life as a trucker, adding that the rules will make things worse by cutting into his revenue. “They have no clue what they’re doing.”

The couple—who are categorized as “independent owner-operators”—crisscross the U.S. in an 18-wheel truck that they are close to paying off, hauling consumer goods under contract.

Mr. Allen, a 66-year-old from Humble, Texas, estimates the rules will idle their truck by at least one extra day each week and cut the couple’s annual $300,000 revenue by $36,000. They earned about $50,000 combined last year after expenses, he said.

Long weeks of 70 hours or more aren’t uncommon, he said, but fatigue isn’t an issue, because he and his wife take turns at the wheel while the other sleeps in the back.

Mr. Allen ticks off federal numbers showing a steady decline in truck-driver crashes. “Look at the stats, brother. We’ve been doing better and better and better and better out here,” Mr. Allen said. “I don’t need these people telling me how to stay alive.”

The Transportation Department says 3,887 people were killed in 2012 in crashes involving large trucks. It doesn’t have precise statistics on fatigue-related crashes, but cited one study showing that roughly 13% of large-truck crashes involve a sleep-deprived driver.

Truck-crash fatality numbers have been trending down over the past decade, helped by new technologies, but the department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said fatigue-related crashes are still too prevalent, and that the latest rules aim to reduce crashes while minimizing the impact on the industry.

“My mission is to save lives,” said Anne Ferro, the agency’s chief.

Ms. Ferro contends the new rules could help reduce the industry’s high turnover, which she attributed to tough working conditions, such as long workweeks and low pay.

The government says that only about 15% of the nation’s 1.55 million long-haul truckers would be affected, as many don’t have routes that require such long hours and unionized truckers have a shorter workweek.

The Teamsters union, which represents 600,000 truckers, has pushed for stricter limits on drivers’ hours, arguing that having shorter work days and longer rest periods would improve worker safety while creating jobs. Fred McLuckie, the Teamsters’ legislative director, said the new rules don’t go far enough in improving driver safety. “We don’t think that the rules provide sufficient rest” for drivers, Mr. McLuckie said.

One study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows many drivers, particularly night drivers, averaged less than six hours of sleep. The industry’s main trade group, the American Trucking Associations, says truckers average between 6.2 and 7 hours of sleep.

Previously, drivers could restart their work week any time they took off 34 consecutive hours. Now, they can restart the workweek only once every seven days, regardless of how many periods of rest.


Regulators estimate the rules will cost the industry about $500 million a year, about one-third of 1% of its annual revenue, or less than the cost of a 3-cent rise in the price of diesel fuel. The agency estimates the new rules will save 19 lives, prevent about 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries each year. The safety agency estimates that the benefits due to fewer crashes and health problems caused by fatigue will amount to $811 million annually.

The industry says the costs will be higher. The American Trucking Associations—a trade group representing major trucking companies including FedEx Corp.’sFDX -0.63% freight division, United Parcel Service Inc., UPS -0.51% Con-way Inc.,CNW +0.05% and Old Dominion Freight Line Inc. ODFL -0.14% —says the new rules could cut business as much as 4%, citing an analysis by Wells FargoWFC -0.34% economists. The ATA says that would cost the industry $1.4 billion.

The short-run effect of the rules could be higher freight rates getting passed down to consumers, the group says. Down the line, the rule could exacerbate an existing shortage of truckers.

The industry also says the rules will increase stress on drivers since they will now be more likely to drive during daylight hours, when traffic congestion is more likely than at night.

A UPS spokeswoman said the company, which sides with the ATA, supports the old rules that “promote a regular work-rest cycle for truck drivers and a schedule that mirrors a 24-hour circadian rhythm.”

Robert Simonds, who has driven a truck for two decades, said the rules will limit how much he can schedule shipments. He said he expects many drivers to falsify their driving logs in order to skirt the rules.

Mr. Simonds said he cleared about $50,000 last year while spending weeks at a time on the road, visiting his adult sons in Washington State and Florida between shipments.

“It’s just making it harder for the small businessman out here to compete with the big boys,” said Mr. Simonds, a 54-year-old from Martinsville, Va. “It’s people that are making decisions behind a desk that have never been behind a wheel.”

Big truck companies that can shift around workers easily will be able to adjust better than independent owner-operators like him. But he acknowledged he doesn’t know the precise effect the new rules will have on his business.

A version of this article appeared July 3, 2013, on page B1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Truckers Are Losing Sleep Over 70-Hour Work Limit.