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Research group says proposed HOS changes would dangerously extend drivers’ workdays

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The Insurance Institute on Highway Safety is concerned about the FMCSA proposal to extend the radius that could be driven without using an electronic logging device from 100 to 150 miles. (Courtesy: INSURANCE INSTITUTE FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY)

ARLINGTON, Va. — The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has expressed concerns about a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposal that the organization said would extend the daily work period under certain circumstances.

The IIHS, an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing deaths, injuries and property damage from motor vehicle crashes, said in a news release Monday, federal regulators’ plans to relax rules governing the hours truck drivers can spend behind the wheel raises concerns about safety, although IIHS acknowledged none of the proposed changes would extend the 11-hour driving window.

“Driver fatigue is a major risk factor in large truck crashes,” said IIHS senior statistician Eric Teoh. “Creating more exceptions to the Hours-of-Service limits, which already allow drivers to log long hours, isn’t likely to improve safety and may well cause harm.”

The IIHS said one of the biggest proposed changes is to expand the so-called short-haul exception, under which short-haul drivers don’t need to use electronic logging devices to record their hours.

The exemption currently applies to drivers who stay within a 100-mile radius and work no more than 12 hours a day. The proposal would expand the radius to 150 miles and extend the permitted workday to 14 hours.

Drivers who are eligible for the exemption still need to limit their actual driving time to 11 hours.

However, since they don’t need to record their hours, compliance is impossible to verify, Teoh said.

The IIHS said that in a study of large trucks involved in crashes with injuries or deaths, researchers from IIHS and the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center found that drivers using a short-haul exception had a crash risk nearly five times higher than those who weren’t.

Specifically, truckers who reported driving after it had been at least 12 hours since an extended sleep period were 86% more likely to crash than drivers who had been awake for less than eight hours. Truckers who reported driving more than five hours without stopping were more than twice as likely to crash as those who drove one to five hours.

Another change that FMCSA is proposing would allow truckers to expand the standard 14-hour window in which driving must be completed to 16 hours if they encounter adverse conditions, such as bad weather or unexpected traffic. Currently, drivers may extend their driving time under adverse conditions, but the window remains 14 hours.

FMCSA says extending the driving window would encourage drivers to wait out the adverse conditions or drive slowly through them, rather than attempting to drive quickly through them. However, it creates a longer work period and could therefore increase fatigue, the IIHS said.

Another proposed change that could lengthen a driver’s workday is an option to stop the clock on the 14-hour driving window for an off-duty break of between 30 minutes and three hours.

“FMCSA says that a three-hour rest in the middle of a shift would offset any potential downside of a 17-hour day, but that’s far from certain,” Teoh said.

The IIHS said in its opinion the proposed set of HOS changes is the second recent initiative from

FMCSA to raise safety concerns.

Earlier this year, the IIHS noted, the agency requested comments on a possible pilot program to allow 18- to 20-year-olds to drive trucks carrying across state lines. The current minimum age is 21. Given the known risks of teen drivers for passenger vehicles, IIHS encouraged FMCSA to study the crash risk of young truck drivers operating within state lines before allowing to transport interstate commerce.

The IIHS noted that a proposal from several years ago that safety advocates believe would reduce truck crashes has been stalled, that being a proposal to require speed limiters on trucks used in interstate commerce.

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The Nation

Lane Departures: Why would California lawmakers saddle trucking with the ABC test?

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Well, he said he’d do it.

If you look elsewhere on this website, you’ll see a story I did about a week ago about AB5, a bill passed by the California Senate on September 10 into the waiting arms of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who had long telegraphed he was looking forward to signing it.

Yesterday, he did it. And come the new year, trucking is going to have to live with it.

AB5 — the full name is the “Employees and Independent Contractors” bill — is ostensibly intended to prevent employers from exploiting workers and skirting expenses by relying on “independent contractors” to make their businesses run instead of hiring full-fledged employees, who come with all kinds of nasty baggage like guaranteed minimum wages, overtime and payroll taxes, mandatory breaks, insurance and other horrific profit reducers.

The bill got off the ground in the wake of a court case last year in which a delivery company called Dynamex was determined to have improperly reclassified its workers as independent contractors in order to save money.  In making the decision, the court applied what is known as the ABC test, which presumes all workers should be classified as employees unless they meet three criteria.

Like the court case, the bill, which will codify the ABC test across the state, seems to have been at least in spirit aimed at companies like Dynamex that are part of that there so-called “gig economy” all the young folks are so hopped up about. Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft are almost always mentioned as Public Enemies 1A and 1B of supposed independent contractor charlatans.

The problem with AB5, its critics say, is it proposes to perform an appendectomy with a chainsaw, ripping into industries that have long-established business models that extensively use independent contractors to the satisfaction of all involved.

A great big example would be trucking, because it appears the ABC test would prevent carriers from contracting with owner-operators or smaller fleets in California. I’ll let you imagine the consequences if that’s true.

If you’ve read the article, or your planning to read the article, I’d like to apologize in advance because as I’ve been learning about this AB5 business, I have some lingering questions that I could not answer. I have calls out to a couple of experts on the legal and logistical nuances. Unfortunately, experts don’t observe journalistic deadlines.

But then, I figured, this story is going to be around a while, so we can keep building on what we know. I may have answers to some of these questions by the time you read this. Or maybe you will be able to provide some of the answers. I mean, you don’t need to have a title or a degree or be part of a think tank to know a thing or two.

My first question is this: They didn’t pull this ABC test out of thin air. A majority of states already use the test in some manner on matters of job status. California’s application of ABC is based on Massachusetts’ broad, strict use of the test. So, hasn’t trucking had to contend with this standard there and in in other states already? I haven’t heard reports of empty store shelves in Massachusetts. Is there some simple workaround already in existence just waiting for cooler heads to prevail?

Second, from what I gather, ABC has had its critics for as long as it’s existed. Is it just the sheer size of California’s economy that makes this case so important or somehow different?

I’m going to go way out on a limb and say “probably.” Last year, California’s economy outgrew that of Great Britain. If it were an independent country, California would have the fifth-largest economy in the world. And what happens in California rarely stays in California. The state has a major influence on the rest of the nation.

California’s economy is closing in on $3 trillion a year. Real estate, finance, the entertainment industry and that nest of tech behemoths in Silicon Valley are responsible for big chunks of that.

And let’s not forget agriculture. California ranches and farms reaped $50 billion in receipts in 2017. That’s a lot of food, a lot of truckloads.

California also has some of the nation’s largest seaports. The Port of Long Beach alone sees about $200 billion in cargo a year, with 11,000 truckloads leaving the port each day. And most of what doesn’t go by truck from there eventually winds up on a truck somewhere inland.

Add it all up, and trucking is a huge player in the California economic machine. Why would lawmakers want to strip its gears with this law? Some lawmakers are even on record saying they are worried about what this could do to the industry. Then why are they doing it?

The bill’s sponsor, Democrat Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego, is not some gung-ho rookie lawmaker. She’s in her third term, and she already has made a national name for herself as a champion of the working class with several pieces of legislation she has supported.

AB5 could fit into that collection quite nicely. But it isn’t a trophy she needs in a hurry. She won her last two reelection campaigns by about a 3-1 margin.

And she’s also been around enough that she surely understands that despite its best intentions, the broad-stroke, one-size-fits-all approach AB5 takes will do more harm than good to many industries, including trucking.

In fact, she’s as much as said so. Gonzalez has already indicated that once the bill becomes law, she’d be open to making amendments and granting exemptions.

So why wait? The bill already grants exemptions to real estate, to doctors and dentists. Even newspaper delivery people got a last-minute, one-year exemption.

The California Trucking Association and the Western States Trucking Association pushed for an exemption. Dozens of truck drivers testified in Sacramento. And you have to think state legislators are at least vaguely aware of what goes on in their own districts.

So, they could grasp the importance of the guy who throws a newspaper in their driveway from a passing car at 4 a.m., but not of the people who deliver, like, everything everywhere all the time?

We all know how long fixing bad legislation can take. Even if they put it on the “fast track,” how much damage will occur before trucking can get an exemption?

I did hear back from one legal expert on the matter. Greg Feary, president and managing partner at Scopelitus, Garvin, Light, Hansen and Feary LLC, said there are a couple of cases in Ninth Circuit Court that could spell relief for the trucking industry. Even so, the legal system can move almost as slowly as the legislative system. He estimates California truckers are going to have to live with AB5 for at least a year.

Questions abound. I’m not looking forward to some of the answers.

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Trucking submarine style in Texas

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Texas is getting hit hard with flooding.  This takes it to new levels!


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Flooding in Texas – That cab’s gonna be a bit damp!

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KHOU reporter Melissa Correa happened to be on scene and captured this video.  Another motorist grabbed a hammer and rope and saved the drivers life.

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