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Driver Lifestyles

Things Not Often Taught to New Drivers: Part 3

By Sandy Long
Posted May 14th 2014 10:14AM

00710_sm.jpgUnderstanding rules and regulations can be like tap dancing in a minefield if one has not done their homework by reading the little green book that should have been issued you when you went to work for your company.   If you do not have one, then purchase one at the truck stop.   The little green book is filled with the regulations governing us and while the major ones might have been addressed in orientation or school, the book is filled with little known regulations that can get you in trouble.  Ignorance of a trucking regulation will not save you if you are inspected by law enforcement.

Once we start driving professionally, technically, from that point forward, every minute of every day is recorded, or should be until we retire.   A DOT consultant once said that a driver’s lifetime of log sheets should be able to be placed end to end and show a continuous record of a driver’s history. This is why even our days off have to be recorded back 8 days at least, to account for our hours and gain a full 70 if not restarting; some companies will require all time off to be logged.

The hours of service rules were initially started back in the 1940’s to keep companies from working a driver all day on the dock and then expecting the driver to drive all night.   This concept is still within the HOS regs in that when we are working, not driving; it counts against our 14-hour day.   In addition, any work we do on the truck, for instance an owner operator changing the oil or a driver cleaning the truck, during our off time, is to be logged on the bottom line; on duty not driving:  (8) Performing any other work in the capacity, employ, or service of, a motor carrier.

One of the best arguments to win with another driver is when they say they log 100% legal.   The regulation is that every change of duty status must be logged.  However, it is a common thought that nothing less than 15 minutes has to be logged.   Found in the FMCSA guidance answers about the rules, one must log changes of duty status less than 15 minutes.   §395.8 Driver's record of duty status.

Question 1:   How should a change of duty status for a short period of time be shown on the driver’s record of duty status?

Guidance: Short periods of time (less than 15 minutes) may be identified by drawing a line from the appropriate on-duty (not driving) or driving line to the remarks section and entering the amount of time, such as “6 minutes,” and the geographic location of the duty status change.

Another misconception on the regulations is one that catches many drivers, that of having alcoholic beverages in the truck itself.   Many drivers, unaware of the regulations concerning alcohol, think that they may carry personal beer, wine or alcohol for their own use or to take home.   With one exception, the only alcohol-based beverage allowed must be on the bill of lading or manifest.   § 392.5 Alcohol prohibition.

No Driver Shall:   (3) Be on duty or operate a commercial motor vehicle while the driver possesses wine of not less than one-half of one per centum of alcohol by volume, beer as defined in 26 U.S.C. 5052(a), of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, and distilled spirits as defined in section 5002(a)(8), of such Code.  However, this does not apply to possession of wine, beer, or distilled spirits which are: (i) Manifested and transported as part of a shipment…

However, in the guidance for the above regulation, there is an exception for when using a CMV for personal use.

Question 3:   Does the prohibition against carrying alcoholic beverages in §392.5 apply to a driver who uses a company vehicle, for personal reasons, while off-duty?

Guidance:  No.  For example, an owner-operator using his/her own vehicle in an off-duty status, or a driver using a company truck or tractor for transportation to a motel, restaurant, or home, would normally be outside the scope of this section.

Along with the HOS regulations being initially to protect the driver, there are some other regulations that do so also.   If you are feeling too ill or fatigued to drive safely, § 392.3 is there so your company cannot force you to go on.  

No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver's ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.

Most of us have hit adverse conditions where it is unsafe to continue driving, many of us, at one time or another, has had our company try to push us to go before it is safe to do so.   Recognizing this problem, there is this regulation: § 392.14 Hazardous conditions; extreme caution.

Extreme caution in the operation of a commercial motor vehicle shall be exercised when hazardous conditions, such as those caused by snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke, adversely affect visibility or traction.  Speed shall be reduced when such conditions exist. If conditions become sufficiently dangerous, the operation of the commercial motor vehicle shall be discontinued and shall not be resumed until the commercial motor vehicle can be safely operated.

But who decides whether it is safe to go or not?   FMCSA answers that question.  

Question: Who makes the determination, the driver or carrier, that conditions are sufficiently dangerous to warrant discontinuing the operation of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV)?

Guidance: Under this section, the driver is clearly responsible for the safe operation of the vehicle and the decision to cease operation because of hazardous conditions.

One issue is hotly debated, that if whether a DOT officer can inspect the inside of the truck without a warrant.   Yes, they can, there are a couple of regulations that can be interpreted to allow it.  

§ 396.9  Inspection of motor vehicles and intermodal equipment in operation.  (a) Personnel authorized to perform inspections.  Every special agent of the FMCSA (as defined in appendix B to this subchapter) is authorized to enter upon and perform inspections of a motor carrier's vehicles in operation and intermodal equipment in operation.

§ 393.76 Sleeper berths There are various regulations within this number, size of sleeper, restraints, ventilation, type of mattress size etc.

§ 393.84 Floors.  The flooring in all motor vehicles shall be substantially constructed, free of unnecessary holes and openings, and shall be maintained so as to minimize the entrance of fumes, exhaust gases, or fire.  

Note:   While the above regulations do allow an officer to look into the sleeper or the cab, it does not allow them to search through the cabinets or the rest of your stuff; however, they may do so in most states with probable cause.   Do not do anything to give them probable cause.

There are hundreds of little known regulations in the little green book, it is not easily navigated nor is the FMCSA website.  This is why one should start at the beginning of the green book and read it highlighting the regulations that concern you and your operation.   If you have questions about a regulation, either talk to your safety director or go to FMCSA’s website to see if there is an interpretation or guidance for that regulation; using the regulation number, find that page and see if there is interpretation for it, there will be a YES on the right hand side.   If you cannot find an explanation or still have questions, you can write the FMCSA and ask them directly.   Their address is:

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Suite W60-300,
Washington, DC 20590

One thing NOT to do is to ask other drivers to explain a regulation unless you know they have the correct answer.   Someone not in the know may tell you it is ok to use one of those thin, less than four-inch thick foam mattresses, when the regulations require foam mattresses to be at least four inches thick. § 393.76Sleeper berths.

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