Port St. Lucie, Florida
These days, when I slip Black Beauty into drive, I hear my 86-year-old mother.
“It’s simple, but it’s not easy,” she often says.
The new Hours of Service rules appear simple, but in the first month, they have not been easy, particularly the 30 minute break. The changes cannot be about safety because my stress level has spiked.
This rule has been described as a 30 minute break after eight hours of On Duty time. To me that means working time, both Driving and what is called On Duty Not Driving. I expected when I went off duty, the eight-hour clock stopped, since I am no longer driving or working. But it does not. It is a countdown clock.
The 30-minute break must come within eight hours of the driver first signing on duty for the day after a ten-hour mandatory rest break. This is a huge penalty for me. I take several short, 10 to 20 minute stops during the day depending on the available parking.
Since we pull a platform trailer we are required to stop every 150 miles or three hours whichever comes first to do a cargo securement check. I do the cargo check and I take a short break. Now I am losing considerable driving time because as we know, when the wheels ain’t turnin’, I ain’t earnin’.
In less than one month under the new regulatory regime, this job — and to quote our driver friend Gary, a job that I love even though it’s not all unicorns and rainbows — has become a giant headache.
Last week we came very close to losing a lot of money, $6,000 to the truck.
Since July 1, I have spent three, 30 minute breaks, in the middle of the night, at fuel islands because there was no parking. Or because I didn’t know the parking situation ahead and the fuel island seemed the best solution.
I visited the restroom, filled my coffee thermos, looked my frequent fueler points on the kiosk, checked my email, all the while keeping an eye out to move the truck if the fuel island became backed up. It didn’t. Each time, I am sure there was at least one other truck hovering around the fuel island.
Last week we took a load from Indiana to Southern California, even though it can be difficult to get freight out of the Los Angeles area. Last March, we were stuck for 10 days, looking for freight before deadheading out. But the rate was good, and we couldn’t pass it up. Two days out from California, a $6,000 team load popped up for the day after our delivery. We grabbed it. Then the regulatory number crunching began.
To do the team load, we had to, absolutely had to, deliver our Indiana steel coil before 3:00PM, because we absolutely had to load at 8:00 the next morning.
If we didn’t deliver the coil by three o’clock, the next opportunity was six o’clock the next morning, but with rush hour traffic we would not make the eight o’clock pick up.
We started planning the execution almost 1,000 miles out in New Mexico, starting with where we would and where we could switch drivers?
We had a second issue in addition to the 30 minute break. We were running on what drivers call the Recap. The rules say we can work 70 hours in seven days. Before July 1, we could take a Restart, 34-hours without working, at any time, and regain a full 70 working hours. After July 1, the Restart is limited to one per week and it must include two consecutive overnight periods between 1:00 AM and 5:00 AM. We are trying to work eight and nine hours each day to extend the consecutive days we can work until we are in a good location to take the Restart.
With the Recap, we do a mathematical calculation that tells us how many working hours are available the following days and when we will run out of enough hours to actually make money. For example, if there’s less than 11 hours available in the 70-hour week, it’s crazy to take a load because a-day-in-the-life-of-a-trucker is too unpredictable, loading and unloading, traffic and more.
I needed a plan for when and where to take my 30 minute break and I needed to drive almost my entire 11 hours to give MacGyver more hours to work the following day so that we could complete the team run. And I was driving in the middle of the night when truck stops are full. I don’t know about Federal regulator Anne Ferro, but I like access to a toilet and a sink during my working hours, and particularly during a break, so a dirt lot in the middle of nowhere is unacceptable for me. To complicate it, Landstar says we cannot park on a ramp, a shoulder or even be legally parked on a public road, I must park at least 15 feet off a public road.
I also discovered that the current conventional wisdom, that if a driver intends to drive the entire eleven hours, the driver must avoid a break before the clock has counted down three hours, or the driver will need another 30 minute break. It isnn’t as simple as it seems.
I went on duty at 03:46, I departed at 03:56 and I stopped at the Petro in Kingman, Arizona at 7:00, having worked for three hours and 14 minutes, expecting to find no place to park, but knowing that it has a large fuel island area. I deemed it better than my other options, the TA at exit 48 on I-40 or the Pilot and Love’s at exit 9. Once there, if there is no place to park, I am left with my choice of dirt lots. And it is wasted earning time to gunkhole each truck stop looking for 75 feet to park the truck.
I took a second short break at 9:41, after driving two hours and three minutes, and again at 12:04 in Barstow, California to fuel and make my last stop before delivery near Long Beach. There is only one real stop after Barstow, at the Pilot in Hesperia, California, past that the driver is committed until delivery and subject to the vagary of the road. Whatever will be will be.
Barstow is where I got my shock. My plan wasn’t working. My eight hour countdown clock said I had only three hours and eight minutes left before my NEXT 30-minute break. But my 11-hour driving clock said I had three hours and 56 minutes to drive in my day. And my 14-hour working clock said I had 5:47 available to work before my DOT day ended.
Yes, it was telling me that if I didn’t make it to delivery in three hours and eight minutes I had to stop for yet another 30 minute break in a place where there is nowhere to stop.
The trip, at 55 miles an hour, the California big truck speed limit, with no traffic delays is two hours and 18 minutes according to my GPS, leaving me 41 minutes of leeway.
I was not giving up $6,000 and possibly sentencing myself to another week sitting in California looking for freight so I set out.
Typically, once past Hesperia, I drive at 52 to 54 miles per hour. The traffic is heavy, the four wheelers weave in and out, there are two long climbs and one steep downgrade with a 45 mph speed limit. My strategy is to cruise through a little below the speed limit, allowing cars and trucks to quickly move ahead of me. It gives me more reaction time and stopping distance. This time, I kept the pressure on the hammer pedal, cruising at 55 whenever traffic allowed.
My route was I-15 to I-10 to I-605 to I-105 to I-710 to I-405. Amazingly there was no real bottleneck anywhere, not even the interchange from I-10 West to I-605 South, which is a mass of cons
truction and poor signage, or I-105 to I-710 South, which is typically clogged with big truck traffic to and from the port. I made the trip in two hours and 20 minutes.
But any driver knows it could have gone very differently. Northbound on I-605 a four wheeler lost control and slammed into the yellow protection barrels at an exit.Traffic was backed up at least three miles.
Anytime, anywhere, any day, trip planning can go out the window. And does.
Rules made in the vacuum of a regulator’s head, a desk jockey, with no real world experience, will create unintended consequences.
Drivers are being forced to play Beat the Clock because they need the prize at the end, the money. So what will they do? The first reaction is to drive faster or to drive when they should take a break, but the clock tells them it’s not time.
The question drivers are asking everyday is: how do I protect my hours to drive so I can pay my bills?