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Trucker Hours of Service Changes A Nightmare Come True

And now for something completely different.

Those who frequent this blog know that I offer arguments for Christianity against any and all and that I often ‘digress’ into political matters;  this justified because I think the current trends in America are leading up to piles of dead on top of the piles we are already generating, and this seems like the kind of thing that (if you believe it) ought to speak out about.  But they may not know that a few years back, I was an over the road truck driver.  This was an interesting experience and gives me some perspective to speak about the latest hours of service (HOS) changes coming down the pike for (against) truck drivers.  LINK

I feel compelled to highlight a couple of the quotes in that linked article, just because they really burn me up.

“The updated hours of service rule makes three common sense, data-driven changes to increase safety on our roadways and reduce driver fatigue, a leading factor in large truck crashes,” Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which issued the rules, said in a statement.

Few things chafe me like bureaucrats (and Obama) uttering phrases like “common sense” and “data driven.”  This is supposed to answer everything, you know.  What they are saying is scientific.  If you reject their ideas, you’ve lost your marbles, see.  The arrogant hubris of these people is precisely what is actually going to get us all killed on a grand scale.

Or later,

But the federal safety administration counters that nearly 4,000 truck crashes a year is still too many. The new rules, it maintains, will prevent about 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries, and save 19 lives each year, according to its analysis.

combined with:

The Department of Transportation contends the new rules would also save money. The department’s analysis found that in 2009, large truck and bus accidents cost about $20 billion in medical and insurance costs, infrastructure damage, lost wages and productivity. The analysis also estimated $470 million in benefits from reduced driver mortality.

I don’t want to disparage the idea of saving lives or saving money, but its this kind of meddling intrusion that makes me ill.  We do, after all, have someone in the White House that says saving just one life justifies any number of gun control measures.  What that Dude never factors into his ‘analysis’ is that in saving ‘one life’ he may actually end any number of lives–the people who are victims of violent crime who were prevented from protecting themselves because of the ‘one life’ they saved… and probably just one life, mind you… through their infantile gun control proposals.

Similarly, what this analysis leaves out is that there are other costs on the other side of the scale.  The accidents may cost $20 billion in medical and insurance costs, etc, but what are the costs involved from all the truck drivers who are probably about to leave their jobs?  After all, what we are basically doing is cutting their hours via Federal regulation… not even legislation!  A sizable number of them are going to decide that it isn’t worth it.

On top of that, as the article notes, the truck companies are going to have to raise their prices in a bid to higher more drivers and keep the ones that they have.  You know what I didn’t see?  Anne Ferro and Richard Hanowski (who said, no pun intended, “science really drove this policy”) tell us what the extra costs are going to be from paying unemployment benefits, the social costs for drivers who cannot afford to take care of their families, the extra burden on every American’s pocket book because the costs of the products they buy will have to go up since the shipping to get it to them have gone up, and the social costs involved in that.  Is that more or less than 21 billion dollars?

We’ll never know, because the ‘smart’ people didn’t think of it.  Or, if they did, we didn’t hear that.  Maybe as a society we would have decided that $100 billion in unemployment benefits and increased cost of living wasn’t enough implementing measures that may save $21 billion, and theoretically save 19 lives, while possibly destroying 10,000 others–19 of whom perhaps will commit suicide out of desperation.  We may suppose.

Of course, these things are hard to measure.  It would be difficult to monitor the change in a system like this and see exactly what kinds of effects there are.  Not to worry.  Our well-meaning bureaucrats love trying to sort this stuff out.  It’s what makes them tick.

Having had to abide by the old HOS, let me assure you that they definitely put a dent in my pocketbook.   Not that the HOS was the sole reason why I had to leave the industry, mind you.  And let me say this:  driver fatigue is absolutely and definitely an issue.  When people are guiding 40 ton missiles down the road, you want them to be awake and alert.

But here is the problem:  the HOS were an unwieldy instrument that didn’t actually facilitate me being ready and rested in time for a long drive, and often prevented me from driving when I was actually alert and ready to go.   Let’s take an example using the new hours of service that correlates to some real world instances (under the old rules).

You are only allowed to drive eleven hours total, but not beyond the fourteenth hour once you began driving.  Let’s say you wake up in the morning and you drive five hours to drop your load at a warehouse.  Your next load is just five hours away, so if you can just get unloaded quickly enough, you’ll be able to get a solid ten hours of driving in and not violate either the eleven or fourteen hour rule.  But there is a problem.

One thing leads to another, and the warehouse is not able to get you through smoothly enough.  It takes them five hours to get to you.  So, now you are already ten hours in on your fourteen hour limit, with five hours to go–plus a mandatory 30 minute break, and of course the need to have time to drop the load and find a place to sleep.  No biggie, you say.  You drive three hours that night, take your ten hour required rest, and pick up the last two hours the next day.  But there is another problem.

The customer requiring the second load needed it that night.  When your dispatcher found out that you would not be able to make the delivery that night, he had to give it to someone else.  So just get another load, right?

Sure.  Except the next ones available aren’t ready for you until the following morning.  You’ve got hours to burn but you can’t do anything with them.  They’re basically wasted.  You got in 250 miles instead of 500 miles.  And that five hours of down time?  Why, you probably figured out pretty quick that things were delayed and spent a lot of that SLEEPING.  When they were finally ready to send you on your way, you were wide awake.  Which meant that when you tried to sleep that night, you couldn’t, so you ended up only getting another five hours of sleep in after that, and when you started your morning drive–after a solid fifteen hour down time, five hours MORE than the 10 required–you were fatigued!

That kind of crap happened to me all the time.

Because in the real world, there are some things as a driver you can control, but a lot more that you can’t.  You can’t control what loads are available, what the time constraints on those loads are, what kind of set-up your customers have, whether or not they can process you efficiently or not, and so on and so forth.

And this is the kind of thing that I find it hard to believe ‘researchers’ would be able to take into account.  More to the point, I was as interested as anyone else in not driving fatigued, but as a grown adult, that is the sort of thing that I actually do know how to manage.  Can you believe that?  An adult.

I am well aware that there are adults that push it and make dangerous choices that risk putting innocents at risk.  You’re going to get this pretty much no matter what.  Did you know that some truckers kept two log books?  People violated the HOS before, they will now.  Trucking companies will enable and even smile on that behavior.  The question is whether or not you can resolve this issue with these kinds of regulations.  I doubt very much that you can.

I think a more effective measure would be this:

Make it a law (ie, via legislation, none of this Cass Sunstein-style ‘nudge’ crap, cloaked in ‘science’) that if you drive a truck and kill someone because you were fatigued, you get the death penalty.  Heck, give the dispatcher and the CEO the death penalty, too.  Watch how quickly the trucking industry shapes up their act.

Ok, so that’s obviously an unjust and disproportionate approach, but it would actually be effective, which is my point.  Linking consequences to outcomes, rather than micromanaging processes, is what will actually work.  In other words, rather than trying to tinker with things that one cannot possibly know anything about with sufficient knowledge and understanding to manage–the complexities of the real world trucking industry–you focus on what you want, which is people not dead.

So, you heavily penalize drivers and their companies that make people dead, and you heavily incentivize drivers and companies that don’t make people dead.

This does not seem to me to be that hard to understand, or even to implement.  But it is so much more fun to regulate people’s behavior, don’t you agree?  Let’s assume they are totally sincere and completely competent:  the job still cannot be done.  The system is too complex to micromanage.  Almost any system is.  But the people ‘running the show’ love systems, and love the idea of managing them.  What is necessary is the opposite of what they want:  less managing, less running of the show.  More trusting adults to be adults, and treating them like adults if they engage in behavior that leads to someone’s death.

And one more thing.  One way or the other, the price we pay for our goods has got to go up.  Drivers are woefully underpaid.  If they made $1/mile instead of 35 cents a mile, they may be more willing to stop after driving 400 miles in a day.  There would be less reason for them to risk their lives driving fatigued.  And, people would stay in the industry longer, which means more experienced drivers, and consequently, fewer accidents.  But of course, we are not so keen on paying more for the things we purchase.  Completely understandable.

But if we’re going to put in place measures that are going to drive up the cost of living significantly anyway, why not put in place ones that will actually work?

This does not seem to me to be too much to ask.



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