My February column, 'Clear Cut Logging', apparently created more questions than answers. I tried to illustrate the amount of flexibility the law actually allows a driver in hours of service. I used a chart to point out how, by virtue of our ability to flip back and forth from one cycle to another, a driver can accumulate an absurd number of hours over a two-week period.
We received several letters suggesting that the example itself was a ridiculous way of scheduling time. Another letter suggested that I was flat out wrong, implying that working 160 hours in 14 days wasn't even remotely legal. Ridiculous it was, but completely legal as well. It was entirely theoretical, but absolutely doable.
I must confess, though, to a minor error in suggesting that switching to the 70-hour/8-day cycle for days 12 and 13 (see the chart) was the answer. I should have said our driver had switched to the 60-hour/7-day cycle. But in fact, it doesn't really matter which cycle the driver uses, as long as he's legal. Here's how it works:
This feature introduces a level of complexity where most drivers, and many fleets, aren't comfortable using all three cycles. The most foolproof method to track these cycles is with a spreadsheet program that performs the calculations for you. But you're probably still working on paper. So, I will too.
Let's review our chart, keeping in mind that the example given assumes perfect conditions and is used to illustrate the complexity with the current system, not to suggest an actual duty cycle. Any driver working consistent 16-hour days will eventually run himself into the ground.
We assume that our driver has not worked prior to day 1 and his accumulated hours are zero. On day one, we show 16 hours on-duty; day two it's 16; day three, 16 again; and day four, 12 hours on duty. Up to this point we're in compliance with all three cycles. From the fourth day onward, our recap reveals how differently the three cycles work.
To fully understand how cycle-switching works, the recap page on the logbook is invaluable. Canadian drivers wishing to make use of the 120-in-14 cycle should use a Canadian recap page because it shows all three cycles, rather than the two cycles found in the American books.
On day four, with 12 hours on-duty, we have 0 hours available for day five, six, and seven on the seven-day cycle. But we still have 10 hours available on the eight-day cycle and 60 hours available on the 14-day cycle. Day four ends at noon, leaving the remaining 12 hours of that day off duty. And day five starts with 12 hours off duty, thereby accumulating the necessary 24 consecutive off-duty hours required to meet the off-duty criteria specified for 120 hours in 14 days. With me so far?
On day five we show 12 hours on duty, bringing our cumulative total to 72 hours. We are now in violation on the seven-day cycle by 12 hours, and in violation of the eight-day cycle by two hours. But, we still have 48 hours available on the 14-day cycle. Under Canadian regulations, we remain legal because we still have hours available in at least one of the three cycles. We're still in compliance.
On day six we show 16 on-duty hours. On day seven we show 16 on-duty hours, and again on day eight we show 16 hours on-duty. As of midnight, at the end of day eight, we've accumulated 120 hours over an eight-day period. We've used up all available hours in all three cycles.
Day nine we're off duty, and presumably resting, showing no on-duty hours. Day 10 we show no on-duty hours, and the same again on day 11. But here's where we start to get some of our time back, thanks to diligent recapping and the freedom to switch cycles. The seven-day cycle shows 12 hours available on day 12. But how's that possible if we've run up against the 120 hours maximum on the 14-day cycle?
According to Brian Orrbine, Transport Canada's senior policy advisor for hours of service, the law is required to prove that a driver is not in compliance with all three cycles before a charge can be laid.
"This question ends up in court all the time," Orrbine says. "And more often than not, the driver doesn't even realize he's not in violation. If he has hours available in any one of the three cycles, he's off the hook."
In this case, start counting backwards from day 12, as if day 12 were the beginning of the 60-in-7 cycle with 0 hours for that day. You count back to day six, and you accumulate 48 hours (16 hours on each of days six, seven, and eight). If you're on the 60-hour cycle, you have 12 hours available (60 - 48 = 12) on the seventh day of that cycle (day 12). Repeat the exercise using the 70-in-8 cycle and you'll discover that you're over by 2 hours.
If we go back to work on day 12, showing 12 on-duty hours, we're in compliance with the seven-day cycle for all 12 hours and we actually have 16 hours available for day 13 if we stick to the 60-in-7 cycle. We would be out of compliance after 10 hours on the 8-day cycle. We would also be out of compliance for the entire 12 hours on the 14-day cycle.
The trick here, and I think it's largely misunderstood, is that the driver isn't required to declare which cycle he's using. At any point in time, if he has hours available in any of the three cycles, he's legal. It's just a matter of doing the math and finding out which cycle works for the given day.
Another way of looking at it is not to view the three cycles as a sliding scale, where you move from one to another as you burn hours - similar to the way you advanced through the cycles on the first eight days of our theoretical trip. Think of a given day as a single point in time, where any of the three cycles can be applied. Just count backward, or down, or from the present day to the past, and do the arithmetic.
Canadian drivers are allowed more flexibility than our American neighbors because of the longer distances we travel between urban areas, while recognizing the need for drivers to be able to reach safe rest areas with facilities. Please remember, these regulations work only in Canada.