USA now protecting truck drivers from schedules that are too tight, and making electronic logging devices mandatory. “Sure we can make it” is a frequently heard sentence by planning managers, even if the time allowed by clients is actually completely unrealistic. And who is left holding the bag? The drivers, who are de facto forced to see driving times and speed limits more like recommendation than actual regulations unless they want to risk losing their jobs. Or, as is often the case in the USA, risk their entire existence as a sole proprietor. So-called owner/operators actually operate around two-thirds of all trucks in the United States. Money is often tight and they need all the orders they can get, which is why they are regularly tempted to take on orders that are more or less impossible to fulfil. The result: Accidents caused by fatigue and/or excessive speeds. When investigating serious bus and truck accidents, the National Transportation Board (NTSB) has repeatedly found such causes and thus recommended to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that the rules are not only tightened for drivers but also for customers.
The Driver Coercion Rule
The FMCSA is now protecting drivers in large forwarding companies as well as owner/operators from the risks of such tight delivery schedules. The Driver Coercion Rule, which came into effect on January 1, 2016, obliges employees as well as the senders of goods to take into account the legal provisions on driving and rest periods as well as the permissible speed limits during their planning. The new regulations follow a three-pronged approach in order to enforce the target:
- Better possibilities for drivers to report problems anonymously and without the risk of reprisals
- Investigative means for the FMCSA, such as access to order data and contracts
- Penalties for companies that force drivers to break the rules
For the last point the regulations envisage high financial penalties or, in extreme cases, even the withdrawal of the company’s authorisation. A hotline and website are available via which to notify the authorities.
A further component of improved safety is the compulsory introduction of electronic logging devices. Within two years all drivers have to switch from the current paper records to digital systems with which to demonstrate that their driving and rest periods as well as total working hours are within the specified limits. “We very much welcome the new regulations, as they provide more safety on our roads and, as a kind of by-product, also ensure fair competition", explains Kelsey Kitchen, Manager Corporate Safety & Security of DHL Standard Forwarding USA. And he adds: “We always make sure that our partners work with realistic schedules for all orders. None of our drivers are forced to break the rules in order to be on time!“
Advantages for the industry
The FMCSA sees several advantages for the whole industry in the use of so-called e-logging devices. According to their calculations on accident frequencies, the new regulations will save 26 lives per year on average, and prevent serious injuries to a further 526 road users, which these would otherwise have suffered through crashes involving trucks or busses. Furthermore, the authorities also expect savings of up to one billion dollars for forwarding companies due to the elimination of the obligation to retain paper documents. The FMCSA provides information on the permitted devices or software for smartphones on its website. DHL Freight is already well prepared for the new regulations: “All the vehicles of our partners are already equipped with electronic logging devices now. However, due to the regulations they were not yet activated,” explains Kelsey Kitchen. “But from now on we can begin using them!“