With more than 4,000 comments filed already, input is due Oct. 10 on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking on hours of service rule regulations for commercial truck drivers.

Will all those comments be enough to relax hours of service regulations for fresh produce haulers?

On Aug. 23, the FMCSA asked for public comment on four subject areas: Short-haul operations, adverse conditions, the 30-minute break, and the split-sleeper berth provision. The agency also sought public comment on two petitions for rulemaking from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) and TruckerNation.

Here are excerpts from a comment from the Texas International Produce Association:

Increasing on-duty hours for short-haul drivers = Yes
By expanding the on-duty drive time to 14 hours, short-haul carriers will be afforded the same flexibility long-haul carriers are in daily operations. This consistency in rules allows drivers to be more efficient and achieve additional deliveries in their day, thus increasing the economic viability of their services. Further, the more deliveries a single truck can provide in a day, the fewer additional trucks are needed on the roadways, thus alleviating traffic-related congestion, reducing fuel usage, and driving down emissions. These additional hours also provide carriers the ability to adjust as needed fit to unforeseen circumstances - traffic accidents, delays in loading or delivery, etc - without placing the carrier in jeopardy of over-time violations.

Abolishment of mandatory 30-minute break regulation = Yes
In manufacturing, employees can easily stop their work activity for a break and return to their post without impacting efficiency or adding additional costs to the final product, and do so within the time constraints of the allotted break. When driving a tractor-trailer, the mandatory break is not always so easily completed.

For example, truck drivers must identify an area large enough to park the vehicle for the break. If the truck is on the road and the clock arrives at the 8-hour point, the driver could spend 30-minutes or more simply looking for an area to park before even beginning the break. This rule could also push the driver to use out-of-route miles to find a rest area. That means the driver spends time and money, typically from the drivers own pocket, moving the truck without advancing the cargo to its final destination. All to find a safe and sufficiently sized parking space to stop for a mandated break.

While the intent of this rule is sensible, it cannot be applied as easily in the case of trucking as with other industries. Drivers should be allowed to use their own discretion to determine when, where and how to take breaks. They have the 14-hour window in which to operate, and should be entitled to choose when it makes the most sense from an economical and safety point-of-view within that window.

Reinstatement of the split-sleeper berth provision = Yes
The split-sleeper berth provision provides a safe, driver-elected alternative for managing sleep and shutdown periods. This rule would allow drivers to rest when they are fatigued, even if it is twice in a single day for several hours at a time. Further, this rule grants drivers a flexibility to better operate their vehicles around nonpeak traffic hours. 

For example, a truck arriving into a major city during peak traffic time could instead shut down for several hours to both rest and wait for traffic to diminish. Once traffic conditions lessened, the carrier could then proceed on and take the remaining rest-hours at a later point in the day. With todays rules, the truck would have to stop and apply those few hours towards daily hours-of-service or continue through the traffic burning valuable fuel and time while making minimal progress towards the destination. The benefit of the provision is the carrier is rested at both points, fewer vehicles on the road during peak traffic periods, more miles are achieved in the same amount of HOS per day, less overall fuel consumption and emissions, cargo is still delivered on-time and the driver is better optimizing their HOS to customize and achieve their highest level of efficiency. 

With nearly 10,000 farms & 800 produce shippers/wholesalers, Texas 91,000 acres of fresh fruits & vegetables is spread throughout the State. From the Rio Grande Valley, to the Panhandle, all the way to Northeast Texas, our production is literally in every corner of the state, as well the areas in-between. The essential resource that brings our states $726.5 million USD worth of fresh produce to the markets and consumers is transportation. Unlike many other states which have highly centralized production zones, or neighboring industrialized metropolises, the agriculture production is immensely rural and typically hundreds of miles away from major cities. As such, these operations rely on transportation providers to bring these highly perishable goods to markets as quickly and efficiently as possible to secure the maximum sellable value for their goods. The more the administration can do to make transportation efficient, the lower the cost and thus the more affordable fresh fruits and vegetables become for American consumers. Additionally, making transportation more efficient and less costly makes the American farmers and producers more competitive. 

 

 

Excerpts from a comment from the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association:

We appreciate and welcome the opportunity to supply FMCSA and DOT with input on this important topic. We also fully support FMCSA’s willingness to consider options for flexibility of HOS rules.

Even though most of the agricultural commodities grown in Florida are often called “specialty” or “minor” crops, they contribute greatly to the diversity and highly nutritious diets available for the local, state, regional, national and global populations (especially during the winter months when the rest of the country by-in-large is not producing these items). Florida farmers grow more than 250 types of specialty fruit and vegetable crops. The state ranks second in the U.S. for value of vegetable production overall. Florida ranks first nationally in production value for crops such as oranges, fresh market tomatoes, fresh market watermelons, grapefruit, sugar cane, fresh market snap beans, fresh market cucumbers and cucumbers for pickling; second in the production of crops such as fresh market bell peppers, fresh market strawberries, fresh market sweet corn, fresh market squash, spring potatoes, tangerines and avocados. These perishable crops depend on trucks and a viable trucking industry for efficient, methodical, timely transfer to intended destinations.

The agricultural industry is already noting that many truck drivers are leaving the business because of new HOS and Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandates.

When transportation problems of any kind arise, produce loses shelf-life in stores because of longer delivery times in transit. Simultaneously, delivered cost of goods has increased because of higher trucking rates, which subsequently is causing higher prices in stores, along with the unintended consequence of lower returns to farms. To help correct this, we are requesting and would like to see additional HOS adjustments put in place for perishable produce items.

With respect to these new regulations, many questions/concerns have been cataloged surrounding HOS requirements as they pertain specifically to the practical ramifications of the rule. The ELDs, coupled with vehicle shortages, driver shortages, etc. have led to transportation cost increases of between 20-30 percent for our growers/handlers already this season.

Our primary concern with the HOS rules and the ELD requirement is the effect on our perishable commodities. These commodities have a limited “life span” once they have been harvested. Drivers of our perishable commodities who have to use ELDs are at this time limited to current HOS rules, which restrict a  driver to only 14 “on duty” hours, with no more than 11 active driving hours.

Once a driver hits those maximum hour allotments, they must stop and rest for 10 consecutive hours. This is problematic when transporting perishable agricultural commodities that in essence have already started their natural physiological senescing and decomposition process the moment they were
harvested.

The fresh produce industry would like to see/be regulated by an HOS rule similar to that which is proposed in the Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act. Perishable commodities would like to see the development of efficient transportation regulations that, as this Act says, promote the “safe, humane and market-efficient transport of livestock, insects and other perishable agricultural commodities.” We would also like to see development of guidelines and recommend that regulatory or legislative action be put into place to improve the transportation of perishable agricultural commodities. We have serious concerns on certain issues, including challenges and impediments caused by the HOS rules in particular.

Because of this, the perishable commodity industries in Florida would like to see the measures included in the Modernization Agricultural Transportation Act put into place that call for suspending the HOS/ELD mandate for commercial motor vehicles hauling livestock, insects and perishable agricultural commodities until the Secretary can propose regulatory changes.

Ultimately, we wish to record our support for HOS and ELD requirements to be inapplicable until after a driver travels more than 300 air-miles from the driver’s source. In addition, because of the perishable nature of the products discussed here, it seems appropriate that the HOS on-duty time maximum hour requirement be extended from 11 hours to a minimum of 15 hours and a maximum of 18 hours of on-duty time for perishable commodities, similar to the provisions outlined in the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act.

We would also like to see:

  • loading and unloading times exempted from the HOS calculation of driving time;
  • flexibility granted to allow drivers to rest at any point during their trip without counting it against their HOS time;
  • allowing drivers to complete their trip, regardless of HOS requirements, if they come within 150 air-miles of their delivery point; and,
  •  a requirement that the driver take a break for a period that is five hours less than the maximum on-duty time, after he completes his delivery and the truck is unloaded.

We also have related concerns about simple realities unintentionally but already built into the system, such as overcrowding at rest areas and truck stops and the difficulty of finding safe truck parking as they shut down each day because of the HOS and ELD’s current requirements.

With perishable agriculture commodities and HOS, things really need to go a step further to allow additional hours relating the delivery of safe, quality product.

Agriculture of course carries with it much in the way of unpredictability, which includes the unpredictability of loading and unloading of trucks and the time necessary to do so. The unpredictability of loading and unloading times could potentially significantly detract from the on-duty hours drivers are allowed in a day.

We therefore encourage DOT and FMCSA to consider flexibility under both the HOS and ELD rule for truck drivers who are transporting perishable agricultural commodities.

Vast amounts of perishable citrus, tropical fruit, sod, sugar cane and vegetable products are on the road and making their way to distribution centers, food service facilities, retail outlets, etc. during large portions of the year that are from Florida. For example, the state ships more than 1 million crates of sweet corn per week all throughout the eastern United States and Canada for most weeks of the March, April and May timeframe.

Any disruption in delivery timings of these products will have catastrophic results on planned harvests and the logistics of appropriately supplying the channels of trade in any kind of efficient manner. Such disruption will result in these crops either rotting on the truck or having to be plowed under while still in the field. It would make no sense spending the money to even harvest the product if there will be no way to ship it to the intended sales point because of simply taking too many overall hours for shipping the perishable commodity to that delivery point.

In summation, the perishable commodity industries in Florida believe the HOS associated with distribution/movement of such product needs to be exempted because of these specific areas of concern:

 

  • The higher costs incurred because of HOS issues throughout the production and delivery supply chain;
  • Delays in delivery that become responsible for shelf-life issues (i.e., shrink);
  • Driver availability, as the industry has already lost and is continuing to lose significant numbers of drivers; and,
  • Food safety issues, resulting from not being able to transport and deliver the perishable produce items to the retail outlets in a timely manner.

For all of the aforementioned reasons, the Florida specialty crop industries need continued access to viable, timely trucking and delivery mechanisms. FFVA strongly endorses and supports the trucking industry operating with the highest regard for safety, while at the same time addressing concerns that impact the economic viability of perishable commodities and their associated industries. If any additional information is needed or questions arise, please do not hesitate to contact us. Thank you in advance for your support with this situation.
 

 

TK: These are strong arguments to relax hours of service regulations for trucks hauling fresh fruits and vegetables, and the FMCSA  should bend to their logic. 

 
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