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Warehouses and Distribution Centers Brace for new Department of Transportation Rules (2003)

What should you do now? Mostly, it is about making sure you understand the expectations of carriers and the limits that the rules may put on your operation

Like a loaded 18-wheeler cruising down the interstate, change is rapidly coming to warehouses, factories and distribution centers in the form of the U.S. Department of Transportation's Hours of Service regulations for drivers and freight companies. Distribution and manufacturing managers must  learn what the implications are and how to cope with them.

Drivers spending excess time at your dock will become a larger issue in 2004

January 1, 2004 brings The Department of Transportation's new Hours of Service rules will change the way carriers can operate and carriers will put pressure on DC's and warehouses to operate differently.

Hours of Service Rules to affect Warehouse and Distribution Operations

The HOS rules are designed to improve public safety by reducing the hours a driver can be on the road. Currently, a driver can put in 15 hours of driving time per day. He can have a three-hour layover within that time and still count it as 15 hours a day. The new rules change this in a very significant way: the driver's 15 hours are now counted from the moment he starts his day. Layovers, the kind he might experience at your dock doors also count.

Under the new HOS rules, layovers due to orders and shipments not being ready for loading won't be as acceptable to freight companies and drivers anymore. Pressure will be put on shippers to have loads ready and to load them as quickly as possible. Keeping your schedule and making your appointments will be more important than ever. Freight lines will pressure you to get their trucks loaded and unloaded faster so they can squeeze more driving time in the shortened 15-hour window.

Accident Prevention is the Motivation

The DOT believes that fatigue increases the likelihood that a driver will not pay sufficient attention to driving or commit other mental errors. In-depth studies of crashes have found that inattention and other mental lapses contribute to as much as 50 percent of all crashes. While fatigue may not be involved in all these crashes, the DOT reasons, it clearly contributes to some of them.

The agency tentatively estimates that 15 percent of all truck-involved fatal crashes are "fatigue-relevant," that is, fatigue is either a primary or secondary factor. This includes the 4.5 percent of fatal crashes where fatigue is directly cited and another 10.5 percent where it contributes to other mental lapses, which then result in a crash.

What are the Practical Effects?

The new rules do the following things in terms of affecting a driver's schedule:

  • Increase the 18-hour on-duty/off-duty work cycle to a normal 24-hour work cycle.
  • Increase time off to allow sufficient time for 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
  • Require mandatory "weekend" recovery periods of at least two nights of recovery sleep to resume baseline levels of sleep structure and waking performance and alertness.
  • Address the effects of operations between midnight and 6:00 a.m. by requiring off-duty periods that enable restorative sleep by including two consecutive periods between these hours.
  • Allow "weekends" of sufficient length to ensure safety and provide adequate protection for driver health and safety.
  • Increase operational flexibility by offering a menu of HOS options customized to different major or distinct operational segments while still maintaining an appropriate level of safety.

If you're working with motor freight carriers, it's likely that both the shipping and receiving sides of your operation will be affected as carriers try to cope with the new rules. It's best to be ready, and to contact your carriers for their response to the rules. You may find that changes in your operation are needed to cope.