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Watch the Clock!

By Clifford F. Lynch

DC Velocity, November 2003

The new truck driver hours of service rules donít take effect until Jan. 4, 2004, but itís already time to officially debunk one of the more prevalent myths. Despite what logistics and distribution center managers may think, the new rules arenít just the fleet managersí problem. Theyíll most decidedly affect the average DC as well.

At first glance, the new rules sound innocuous enough. Drivers will be allowed to drive up to 11 hours followed by a 10-hour break versus the current 10 hours followed by an eight-hour break; remain on duty for 14 consecutive hours versus the current 15; and be required to go off duty for 10 hours versus the current eight.

Though that doesnít sound like a major change, truck operators are already gearing up for a big hit in productivity. An impact study commissioned by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimated that operating costs will increase by $611 million and that motor carriers will be forced to hire 84,300 additional drivers. Thatís almost 20,000 more than the total drivers currently employed by J. B. Hunt, US Express, Covenant, Landstar, Werner, Swift and Schneider combined!

Surprisingly, their customers seem largely unaware of whatís in store for them. At the recent Council of Logistics Management annual conference, I asked some logistics and distribution center managers how they felt about the new rules. Virtually all of them were either unfamiliar with the changes or didnít feel their distribution centers would be affected.

They couldnít be more wrong, as theyíll quickly come to understand the first time a driver has to go off the clock while parked at their dock. The new rules eliminate the current ability to log "on duty, not driving" for rest periods and waiting time; and regardless of what the driver is doing at the time, when the 14 hours are up, he or she cannot move the truck. The driver must log "off duty" for the required down time.

Once the new rules take effect, it will be incumbent upon distribution center managers to do everything possible to get the drivers in, out, and on their way with a minimum of elapsed time. Here are some ways to do that:

Establish a drop and hook system. Set up programs with your motor carriers to drop both loaded and empty trailers at your dock for later handling. By using a shuttle tractor, trailers can be loaded or unloaded and moved aside for later pick up. This will free up valuable time for drivers who otherwise would be waiting.

Ship as much unitized freight as possible. If itís not practical to operate a drop and hook system, faster loading methods will be a must. A properly staged, palletized truckload shipment can be loaded in as little as 45 minutes, while a hand load will take anywhere from three to five hours.

Keep your appointments. Failure to adhere to scheduled appointment times will simply convert productive driving time to hours spent waiting for a dock door to be free.

Make sure necessary documentation is ready for the drivers. In many DCs valuable time is lost while someone prepares bills of lading and other documents. Inefficiencies in this area can result in increased costs and service issues if the driver runs out of time.

Analyze your multiple-stop programs. Many savvy DC managers schedule multiple-stop truckload shipments rather than more expensive, slower LTL movements. These schedules should be analyzed closely to make sure theyíre realistic and can be completed within 14 hours. It may be necessary to switch shipments to inefficient customers back to LTL.

No responsible person can argue with the intent of the new rules (i.e., to improve safety). But itís important to recognize that unless DC managers work more closely with the carriers, everybodyís productivity will sag and costs will soar.

 

 

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