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Time to send in Dee

Years ago, when I first went to work for Land Line Magazine, I met an old trucker named Dee.

Dee was considered an “honorary staff member” at the magazine; his wife, Ruth, had been the senior editor, having come off the road herself.

Dee formed a lot of my early opinions of truckers – he’s part good old boy, part secret intellectual, part Zen master. He can also drink coffee like fish drink water.

Dee also helped me understand, as perhaps no one has since, how trucking works out in the real world – especially as it relates to the hours of service regulations.

Sandi Soendker, the editor in chief of the magazine, had brought Dee in for a day to educate the news staff on the hours of service, trip planning and more.

I learned a lot that day. Of all of it, perhaps the one thing that sticks with me most is how illogical the original hours of service were.

This was back in the early 2000s before hours of service was revised. At that time you could drive 10 hours a day, sleep eight and then hit the road again.

To put it in perspective, Dee related how you could start at 8 a.m., go to 6 p.m., rest until 2 a.m., then be back on the road.

After getting up at 2 a.m. in the God forsaken morning, the hypothetical trucker drives until noon, sleeps until 8 p.m., then hits the road again. And so on, and so on, and so on.

As he went through the potential schedule, Dee noted that it “disturbed the natural circadian rhythms” in a person’s body.

Now just imagine that being said, but by a soft-spoken deep Arkansas accent.

When the hours of service changed to a 14 on-duty, 10 off clock, suddenly, we were running a 24-hour schedule – you know, like people do. In at least one respect, those rules brought truckers closer to some kind of biological normality and sanity.

Things got better when the 34-hour restart was first introduced. It was the first time I heard from a significant number of truckers that a change to the hours of service made them feel more rested. It was a sharp move that simplified the weekly clock for a lot of drivers, simplifying the often complex task of tracking their time.

That is, until they screwed it all up.

To the agency’s credit, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not want to change the hours of service at that time. They were prompted by a lawsuit by so-called safety advocate groups (I say so-called because so much of what they ask for contributes nothing to safety – they are really anti-truck groups for the most part).

That’s the point where the requirements that the restart be taken only once each week and that it include two periods from 1 to 5 a.m. were added.

The big impact, so far as I was able to determine, was on truckers who tried to run at night. They did that because they faced no rush hour, the roads were more clear of traffic, fewer traffic interactions occurred and they had a smoother, safer run.

With that change by FMCSA, suddenly, if those truckers wanted to use the restart, they had to switch once a week to a day schedule to get two periods of 1 to 5 a.m. in before hitting the road again.

As Dee said so long ago, it “disturbed the natural circadian rhythms.”

It’s hard to understand how anyone could fail to get this. It seems pretty straightforward. However, if they did comprehend the contrary nature of what they had done, they would never have done it.

Congress got it. (You don’t hear that often, do you?) They ordered the FMCSA to roll back those changes to the 34-hour restart until they studied them to determine whether they help or harm. You can guess what I think they’ll find.

Regulations have to have some relationship to the real world people live in every day. They need to recognize what is happening and why it’s happening, or they cannot solve the problems they are intended to solve.

A regulation that makes a train wreck out of a trucker’s natural sleep pattern cannot, by definition, reduce fatigue.

Somehow, that message must get through to lawmakers and regulators who write the regulations.

Or, we could just send Dee.


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