Chain of Thought

You Can Silence the Hours of Service Noisefest

There’s enough noise from the Hours of Service debate to keep even the sleepiest truck driver awake. But while special interests on the motor carrier and the public safety sides complain about the pending changes to the number of hours a trucker will be allowed to drive, Garret Burrell actually found a way to do something about the situation.

I introduced you to Burrell in my last blog. He’s manager of internal deployment for the Abbott Nutrition distribution center in Columbus, Ohio. I concluded that blog by telling you how his method of getting more product into tractor-trailers will ultimately result in his needing fewer drivers. I begin this blog by telling you that if every shipper did this, the hours of service debate would be a waste of air. That’s not only my opinion, but it’s held by someone you wouldn’t expect to espouse it: a trucking company executive.

As senior vice president of safety and security for Schneider National Inc., Don Osterberg is pragmatic about a human being’s need for sleep and therefore, has no problem with the goals of the Hours of Service regulation, either in its present form or in how it will change by next July.

“By becoming a bit more restrictive from an HOS perspective we can make our work more reasonable, attract higher quality people and retain good people as commercial truck drivers,” he told me. “You could argue we’ll need more drivers to cover the same amount of freight if we’re a bit less efficient by having more restrictive HOS rules, but net-net the effect of this final rule will be favorable to safety and potentially favorable to driver retention.”

But he sees guys like Burrell as the ultimate problem solvers. They’re the ones who will decelerate the raging debate and channel it into a supply chain discussion that will improve the lot of all interests involved.

“We’ll find that by working collaboratively with our supply chain partners, from shippers to the consignees at the delivery point, we can work to improve the inherent efficiencies of the supply chain to mitigate or offset any of the negative impact imposed by more restrictive hours of service rules,” Osterberg added. “In some ways supply chains have been able to delay commercial drivers with relative impunity in the past and because drivers are paid by the mile, the supply chain was insensitive. Commercial drivers have historically been viewed as an elastic link in an otherwise rigid supply chain—expected to buffer the up and downstream inefficiencies of the chain.”

Now that the commercial driver link in the supply chain is becoming less elastic and even less fortified by a steady infusion of new practitioners of that art, shippers have both an obligation and an opportunity. They need to find the kind of efficiencies Abbott’s Burrell is implementing. They also need to work with supply chain partners to rationalize service expectations, not only due to the driver shortage, but to government underinvestment in our transportation infrastructure, as well.

As you’ll read in MH&L’s October issue, neither presidential candidate seems to be facing the country’s infrastructure issue head-on. That’s contributing to ten truck-involved fatalities every day, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

If shippers like Burrell have the guts to invest in technology that will help them fight this country’s transportation troubles, maybe their carriers will latch onto their courage. Osterberg was on the advisory committee for the Dept. of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation Initiative and says he’s excited about his company’s opportunity to leverage technology.

“It will take a significant investment in intelligent transportation infrastructure, but the technology is reasonably mature,” he says. “The limiting factor is our willingness to make the infrastructure investment required to enable that. I see a day when we could have remotely piloted trucks and we can come up with an intelligent transportation infrastructure that would enable the efficiencies we need and in so doing, deliver safer transportation solutions. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it will happen. Freight will find a way.”

What a great campaign soundbite that might have been.

Related Articles:

America Has a Weight Problem. We’re Not Heavy Enough.

Associations File Joint Challenge to Hours of Service Rule

Silver Lining: Lousy Economy Keeps Capacity under Control

New Hours of Service Rules Settle Nothing, Satisfy Nobody

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