Drivers are pacing the Love’s truckstop on the edge of the Port of Memphis like caged tigers.
“Do you think there will be a party tonight?” I asked one driver in jest. A 30-ish man, medium-build, head cleanly shaven, wearing a black turtleneck, black jeans and cream-colored loafers was wandering the lot about six o’clock Central Time New Year’s Eve.
“There’s nothing around here,” he said. “I’m stuck. No freight until Monday, maybe Tuesday.”
“We’re centrally isolated,” I told him.
MacGyver and I are here by choice. Others had no choice. Our last load dropped a few miles away and we need a 34 hour restart, 34 hours shutdown, before the Hours of Service rules give us a full 70 hours in seven days to drive and work.
Federal regulators, safety advocates and politicians like Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood, will have you believe that we, and the other drivers are having a “weekend.”
This is no weekend. This is a break. A necessary break, but just a break.
In a coward’s move, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released their long-awaited Hours of Service rules, a year in the making, the day before the Christmas weekend. The proposed rules were released in 2010 in the dead time between Christmas and New Year’s.
They tinkered. The small changes will have big impacts on many drivers, and will do nothing to increase safety on the roads and will likely produce unintended consequences. Log keeping will become more difficult, leading to more Hours of Service violations, the rules will affect income. Solid, safe drivers will decide to retire early, others will just leave bringing a “churn and burn” effect of new, less experienced drivers.
But mostly, the new rules fail to recognize that road safety is a community issue. Instead of widening the focus, they narrowed it to the driver, only one aspect of road safety, laying the full responsibility in our hands.
The biggest issue for us, as team drivers, are changes to what is known as the 34 hour restart and the inclusion of two overnight periods in that restart. We are allowed to drive and/or work 70 hours in seven days. Once we reach this, we must shut down for 34 hours to reset our working clock. The restart is brilliant in its current design keeping drivers on their waking/sleeping schedule. Stop driving at 8 pm Friday, drive again Sunday morning at 6 am. Stop driving at 4 pm Monday, able to drive again Wednesday at 2 am.
Safety advocates, regulators and politicians enamored with their experience of restful weekend, buying groceries, mowing the lawn, watching the kids at baseball practice, tinkering in the garage, a few beers with neighbors, maybe a movie want to share it with drivers.
Drivers at the Love’s this weekend are doing none of this. There is nothing in walking distance. There are no restaurants. The food choices in the Love’s are Subway and Chester’s, convenience store junk food and some pretty good looking bananas, 2 for $1.
Regulators — and as a born and bred Canadian, I am not opposed to regulation, I believe that adult supervision aka government regulation, is needed in business and public policy, for the good of the whole and there are the self-serving, idiots and criminals out there — want us to get more rest so they made two simple but not easy changes.
The restart must have two periods, from 1 am to 5 am, where the driver is not driving, ostensibly sleeping, and there can only be one 34 hour restart in a week.
These two modifications, show that the regulators and safety advocates have no understanding of the everyday practical realities of trucking. Truckers are paid by the mile and governed by the hour, a conflict before we even start. While there is a significant portion of this industry, such as drivers who deliver to grocery chains, that work overnight, the majority of drivers are considered “solar powered.” Drive by any rest area or truckstop in the middle of the night and they are jammed beyond capacity. Drivers who can, design their days and weeks to take their ten hour break between 6 pm and 6 am.
They, like everyone else, like to sleep at night — an overnight shutdown rule is not something that is needed, but it eliminates flexibility and the ability to earn a living — and there is a dearth of safe parking across the country, particularly in the high population areas of the Northeast, South Florida, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles. In many areas, if drivers do not have a spot by 8 pm, they will be relegated to an abandoned lot — where drivers get murdered — or the ramp of an Interstate, which is now increasingly against the law.
There are some drivers who prefer to drive nights because they will always have a place to park. The other drivers, like MacGyver, who has always been a late night kind of person, is the night driver on our team.
Pulling team expedited freight, we will have to work around this rule in order to keep running, it will affect our daily, healthy, safe routine of twelve-hour shifts, split 3 pm to 3am for MacGyver and 3 am to 3 pm for me. There is really almost no parking available in the middle of the night. To find safe parking it will cut even deeper into our driving time and surely affect our income.
The other rule is that there can only be one restart per week, which is ludicrous and affects our business as a team operation. What is wrong with more than one restart in a week? It is more rest. In team operations, once we get below 25 hours each available to run, we can no longer accept a cross country load, it takes 60 hours to go from Los Angeles to New York, so we shutdown and take another restart.
Cross country is our bread and butter, it is also better on us physically. Short runs mean the truck is shunting more trailers, hooking and unhooking, which is difficult to sleep through. Under the new rules once we hit 50 hours, we must take short loads, or shut down and wait to the end of the week, then wait again for the 34 hour restart. Since we are only paid when we drive, our income will be reduced.
These rules may be the greatest addition to Hours of Services rules in many years, but without adequate safe parking with resources close by, such as food, the FMCSA is negligent in creating these rules. An already difficult situation, finding safe, sanitary parking, may now be untenable.
Memphis, Tennessee should be a great place for a 34 hour restart, but it’s not. Truckstops ring the city, in West Memphis, Arkansas, at the Port of Memphis and Olive Branch, Mississippi, so close to civilization yet so far. We chose the Love’s so MacGyver could ride his bike into Memphis — I am resting from a cold.
Yesterday we drove the bobtail seven miles north to a Whole Foods and stocked up knowing there is no food available here. We typically buy the best food we can, believing it keeps us healthier. Most drivers are solos and most solos are men, without their wives and girlfriends, and their influence. We saw one guy in Manteca, Illinois sit down in a McDonalds, with a package of Oscar Mayer baloney rounds, and a bag of Doritos. He folded each baloney round in half, filled it with Doritos and ate it like a taco.
The Pilot at Jackson, Tennessee where we spent Christmas Day, is one of the few truckstops in the US with services within walking distance. A grocery store is 15 minutes away by foot, wide shoulders on the highway, where we stocked up with yogurt, deli meats, fruit, vegetables. There’s a Chinese restaurant, Jiang Jin, Denny’s and McDonalds, and bonus, a movie theater where we watched Mission Impossible Christmas Day.
The New York Times recently ran a story about how the industry, carriers and regulators, want drivers to be healthier, lose weight, get exercise. We try. This is all but impossible without access to resources. Almost four years in this industry, we are within 10 pounds of our starting weight, which is a miracle. Our biggest problem is lack of consistent exercise. We carry Brompton folding bicycles, but there are few places to safely ride. When we find one, like Central Point, Oregon with its bike path, we try to get back as often as possible. There are few places to safely walk near truckstops, no shoulders, no sidewalks and increasingly no street lights.
Many independent truck stops are closing because they cannot compete with the major players which offer carrier fuel discounts, freight rates have been largely stagnant for many years, drivers spend less at truck stops, leaving McDonald’s as a major supplier of truck parking and meals.
The FMCSA’s rules will mean drivers will spend more time sitting in these conditions. Imagine, stuck for two or more days to complete a restart, following the rules, and nothing much to eat, or do.
This Love’s is not a restful place. Freight trains, blasting horns in the night, rattled the tractor and at 6:15 am, there came a pounding on the door. I peeked out to see a 50ish woman waving her arms at me. Her red Impala, at least 20 years old, parked in front of our tractor, she either wanted cash straight up or was willing to work for it.
Over-the-road drivers, who run 48 states, including us, run for two-to-four weeks and then they go home. That is their weekend. To sleep in their own beds, to eat real food, to be with family and friends, to restore themselves.
Secretary La Hood is staking his legacy on making the trucking industry safer, but he is silent about the continual closures of Rest Areas in virtually every state, most recently New York, which closed truck parking for commuter parking. La Hood has not considered that carriers, shippers and receivers, should, as a cost of doing business, provide parking or that local governments for the good of the community, should be party to the parking issue. And like Starbucks that provides the de-facto public restrooms in New York City, local businesses, shopping malls, big box retailers, not just Wal-Mart should be part of the solution, since their profit is made with the help of the drivers who bring their goods. Their humongous lots either sit empty at night or have been designed with landscaping that cannot accommodate a big truck — to keep them out.
The FMCSA has not said to municipalities, cities, counties and states that development permits for trucking facilities must include overnight parking. And your Rest Areas, are not tourism kiosks, they are safe havens.
FedEx Custom Critical has no truck parking. Their headquarters in Greene, Ohio prohibit overnight truck parking. It seemed a big imposition to ask to park at a FedEx Ground or FedEx Freight location, although we just did. Landstar operates 8,000 trucks, but has minimal parking at nine locations mostly east of the Mississippi.
Carriers should be required to have parking available at terminals or drop lots in relation to the number of trucks they run.
Minnesota, which developed a check list to gauge driver fatigue, had a government shutdown last fall and closed all the Rest Areas, which created havoc for truckers. On one hand, the state trained troopers to spot bleary-eyed drivers, on the other, it does not consider Rest Areas, which provide safe, sanitary facilities as an essential service. Connecticut refused to close seven Rest Areas to save money, and rightly so, since there is almost no parking in that state.
In Nebraska, bold signs limit parking in Rest Areas to 10 hours, the minimum break required before a driver can put in 11 hours behind the wheel. What happens if I’m not ready to drive after 10 hours, I have a cold, a bad night? Will a state trooper give the driver a ticket for being there 11 hours? What if the driver has the flu? What if he stays 24 hours, will he get two tickets? Can a state trooper force the driver to move? What happens if the driver is forced to move and can’t find another place to park or has a crash? Who is responsible?
While Nebraska has Rest Areas every 30 to 40 miles, they contain almost no parking, room for five-to-six trucks in many, in a state with no shortage of open space and an Interstate, I-80, plagued by winter shutdowns.
The new Hours of Service rules go into effect in July 2013. I don’t know how we will work with them and what will happen to our business. But I do know that safety, as practiced today in the US, and Canada, with its shortage of truck parking and sanitary facilities, is talk.
We’ve lost the ability to connect-the-dots to see how costs and savings overlap, public policy has been wiped out in favor of private profit.
No government body, no safety advocate nor any politician is interested in creating a safe solution because it costs money.
On New Year’s morning, walking into the Love’s to brush my teeth, a 40 ish driver wearing jeans, runners, a navy windbreaker, a military-style haircut opened the door for me.
“Happy New Year,” he said. I smiled.
“What a way to spend it,” he continued. “Maybe they’ll get me to the house soon.”