With drivers feeling constrained by ELDs, industry needs solutions to solve growing “flexibility crunch”

Imagine the worst boss you’ve ever had looking over your shoulder all day and telling you what to do, and then once 14 hours have elapsed since you drove to work, you have to drop everything, stop work and take a 10-hour break regardless of the time of day. Oh…and by the way, you’re only getting paid for 80% of the hours you work because your company gives away 20% of your time to customers for free.

On top of that you can’t drive home and have to sleep in your vehicle in a parking lot where there are no rest facilities and cameras watching you to make sure you don’t take a bio-break (but your dog can if he/she has the urge). Sounds ludicrous – right? Well, that is something many commercial truck drivers have to live by every day with prescriptive regulations that dictate when they can and can’t work, and to verify compliance, they have to wear the equivalent of an ankle monitor to make sure they’re not trying to drive home even though home is only 30 minutes down the road. Truckers tell FreightWaves that the situation is akin to being under house arrest – or rather “truck arrest” – even when they haven’t done anything wrong.

That is the new reality that drivers face now as the FMCSA’s ELD Mandate is in full effect and the reason why the trucking industry is facing a flexibility crunch of unprecedented proportions. There has been much talk about a “capacity crunch” but the reality is there is a flexibility crunch that is contributing to both the driver turnover and driver shortage crisis. Most over-the-truckers only get paid for the miles they drive within an 11-hour window but generally don’t get paid for the 3 hours allowed for unloading, loading and fueling – a typical 24-hour workday is made up of 11 hours on-duty driving, 3 hours on-duty non-driving (loading, unloading, fueling etc.) and 10 hours off duty. The fact that most truckers’ workday is regulated at 14 hours is alarming, after all, that is 60% longer than the average American worker who works 8.8 hours per day.

On top of this, the long-haul trucking industry still vacillates about how to solve the driver turnover and alleged driver shortage problem yet wonders why drivers quit in great numbers around the 90-day mark after being sleep deprived day in and day out, forced to work long hours and not be paid for at least 20% of the work they do every day. Some of the smarter fleets have already figured this and switched to hourly pay or annual salaries as is the case in Europe.

The “flexibility crunch” arises in part because drivers no longer have the flexibility to go off-duty at docks because the ELD Mandate now requires drivers to record dock time as on-duty despite the fact most don’t get paid for it. Prior to the ELD Mandate, drivers would simply go off-duty, rest in their trucks and catch up on some sleep while their truck is being loaded or unloaded.

At the end of the workday, the flexibility that paper logs afforded drivers meant their hours always added up to 11, 3 and 10 – they would just put them together differently which helps dispel the other big industry myth about drivers cheating on their logs to run more miles and/or hours. Whilst that’s true for the 1% who bend the rules no matter what the industry, the reality is that drivers want the option to put their workday together based on how alert or tired they feel and how the freight is running on any given day of the week. This includes stopping for a nap when tired, without fear of running out of hours at the end of the day – as is the case now with the 14-hour rule enforced by ELD’s, or waiting for traffic to ease off before heading into a city to drop and hook the next load.

This “flexibility” has come at a cost because for far too long, motor carriers have absorbed the inefficiencies in the supply chain where trucks are held at docks for long periods of time generating little to no revenue.  Now that we have the ELD mandate in place, every minute of every hour spent on a dock becomes quantifiable in terms of both the opportunity cost to drivers and carriers, but the actual cost of supply chain inefficiencies in rates shippers are charged to haul loads. The flexibility crunch is very real with some shippers seeking to lock in capacity by becoming a “Shipper of Choice” and work with carriers who are beginning to use objective ELD data to demonstrate opportunities for improvements (and establish more accurate rates in the process).

A driver’s weekly work time allotment is linear – the clock keeps ticking until you hit your maximum number of work hours then you stop. Unfortunately, the freight task isn’t linear and oscillates over the course of a week and year, driving the need for flexible regulations that are economically affordable.

Performance-Based Regulations

At the heart of the flexibility crunch is the FMCSA’s desire to design regulations that cater for every possible scenario i.e. the lowest common denominator in the industry. The problem with this approach is that by default all of the good operators get treated as if they were the worst with no ability to differentiate themselves beyond regulatory exemptions to HOS (hours-of-services) regulations. Performance-Based Regulations (PBR) in countries like Australia have already demonstrated that if regulations are both flexible and economically affordable with financial incentives to comply, industry will not only comply in great numbers, it will lift the overall standard of the industry itself. The FMCSA needs to create an environment whereby good operators can benefit from their higher operating standards and receive regulatory benefits in the process such as multi-tiered HOS framework where the more flexibility required to haul freight, the higher the standards carriers have to meet.

For example, in exchange for exemptions from HOS rules, including the 10-hour continuous off-duty rest break period, split-sleeper and 14-hour rules, carriers would also have to meet higher operating standards ranked in order of priority. They include:

  • A minimum of 6-hour continuous sleep every 24 hours at a time of the drivers own choosing
  • 2 periods of consecutive night sleep every 7 days (no work between 10pm and 8am)
  • Bio-compatible scheduling of drivers start and load appointment times (such that their work and rest hours align with their personal sleep preferences), and
  • Sleep education classes for all employees.

PBRs are also a perfect blockchain application and using technology like Blockcerts developed by Learning Machines and MIT via the Universal Driver Passport, drivers and fleets can demonstrate their compliance and qualifications whether it be via roadside enforcement and mobile apps or in-office audits. PBRs are highly dependent on trust between all parties and with that being the foundation of blockchain technologies, Blockcerts would independently verify driver qualifications, compliance to regulations and higher voluntary standards at the click of a button.

The benefit for the FMCSA is that PBRs allow for better use of limited resources. Instead of trying to regulate every single motor carrier, most of whom don’t need to be regulated, those who choose not to voluntarily participate in PBRs and up their game, are by default outside the tent and the focus of targeted enforcement.

Regulation Sleep Instead of Hours Worked

If you were to throw away regulations that focus on hours worked in the vain hope that a driver will be well-rested for the next shift, and instead focused on regulating minimum sleep requirements, what you would end up with are well-rested drivers who run 10% more miles per tractor-week, 30% less likely to quit, have a 30% lower DOT Recordable accident rate and a 60% lower accident severity cost. After all, isn’t this the goal of the HOS regulations – to keep tired drivers off the road and make our roads safer?

On top of all of this, there are dozens of sleep personalities (morning larks, night owls, long and short nappers, no nappers, short sleepers, long sleeper plus many more) which all determine the best time of day to work and rest. Add to this the aging process where the amount of sleep not only declines as we age, but the quality of sleep diminishes also – by the time we hit 50 we’re getting 50% less deep sleep than we did when we were 20.

Take aging body clocks, sleep at different times of the day, sleep disorders, varying sleep personalities and then a one-size-fits-all HOS regulation and ELD Mandate on top, and you end up with a perfect storm resulting in high driver turnover, higher accident rates, low driver productivity levels and an inefficient supply chain.

All of this adds up to the flexibility crunch now facing the global supply chain – as it is that very flexibility that is required to drive supply chain efficiency and road safety, not prescriptive regulations enforced by the ELD Mandate.