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Are the proposed changes to US trucking’s hours of service rules based on solid science?


Anyone running into the US should be paying close attention to the firestorm of debate raging over the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new proposed hours of service rules for trucking.
The proposal seems to have support from no quarter. Over the years I’ve learned that when opposing sides on an issue are critical of proposed legislation, it’s a good indication that legislators have struck a conciliatory and workable solution. But from the stakeholder comments I’ve read to this point and the commentary of experts on this thorniest of subjects (how exactly can you mandate someone to sleep anyway?), it seems the negative reaction on both sides may only lead to legal battles and the uncertainty that stems from a regulatory quagmire.
Most of the trucking industry concerns I’ve identified to this point centre on revisions that would:
– Add one hour of off-duty time within the 14-hour workday;
– Limit consecutive driving hours to 7;
– Reduce the maximum allowable daily driving time to 10 hours from the current 11;
– Require drivers to have two periods of rest between midnight and 6 a.m. during a 34-hour restart
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) claims the proposed changes will be enormously expensive for trucking and the North American economy. So do some prominent shippers. The (ATA) pointed out the FMCSA itself estimated, just two years ago, costs of over $2.2 billion if the daily drive time was reduced by one hour and the restart provision was significantly changed. The ATA contends that the FMCSA’s own research previously found that the eleventh hour of driving time does not increase driver weekly hours; is used for flexibility purposes; does not increase driver-fatigue risks; and that eliminating it would promote more aggressive driving (to meet time constraints).
With respect to the 34-hour restart, the ATA says the FMCSA is needlessly departing from past acknowledgement that requiring drivers used to sleeping during the day to now sleep between midnight and 6 a.m. for two consecutive days would actually be less safe. It would disrupt drivers’ circadian cycle and force them to drive more during the day, adding to congestion and again increasing crashes.
Both safety and efficiency must be taken into consideration but, within reason, safety must trump efficiency. But when it does it must be based on solid science. All stakeholders must avoid the temptation to view truck driving through the eyes of people who work normal hours. It may make perfect sense to someone used to working 9 to 5 that truck drivers should sleep at least two nights in a row between midnight and 6 a.m. before resuming their work schedule. But do we know what that actually does to people used to sleeping during the day or accustomed to sleeping at shifting times? Unless there is solid science that shows such a move would be beneficial, why consider it?
After all, since the current hours-of-service rules were brought in back in 2004, the trucking industry in the US has reduced its crash-related fatalities by 33% while both fatality and injury crash rates reached historic low, even during all the freight growth years.
Is the FMCSA attempting to fix something that isn’t broken? That’s what the ATA charges and accuses the government agency of cooking the numbers to make the situation look worse than it really is. The ATA has certainly made some accusations that I would love to see the FMCSA respond to.
The ATA says that in the legislative proposal’s cost-benefit justification, the FMCSA inflated its estimation of the percentage of fatigue-related crashes in two ways. First it overstated the percentage of single-vehicle truck crashes (which are more likely to be fatigue-related) compared to multi-vehicle crashes. In fact, the FMCSA doubled the weight given to single-vehicle truck crashes in its large truck crash causation study.
Second, the ATA charges that FMCSA is treating any crash in which fatigue is listed as an “associated factor” as a fatigue-related crash. Yet that contradicts the FMCSA’s own report to Congress, in which it stated “No judgement is made as to whether any factor is related to a particular crash, just whether it was present.”
Changing the way it looks at the data, the FMCSA has been able to nearly double the number of truck-involved crashes caused by fatigue. Back in 2008, the FMCSA believed about 7% of truck crashes involved fatigue (even though the best data on fatigue showed only a 2.2% relationship, according to the ATA.) Now, however, the FMCSA has upped that figure to 13% — hence making it look like there is a need to revisit hours of service regulations.
Unless the FMCSA has solid answers to ATA’s accusations, its numbers, and hence its motives, appear suspect.


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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12 Comments » for Are the proposed changes to US trucking’s hours of service rules based on solid science?
  1. BARRY J ZERONGUE says:

    My feeling is that they trying to do away with is small O/O!!I feel the old rules were better than now!!why they keep messing with us with over 35000 auto deaths a year!! An large trucks only have about 3500 deaths each year I say leave us the hell alone!!!Unforced laws for the four wheeler and make our highways safe!!

  2. Billy says:

    Is that a rhetorical question?

  3. David Robson says:

    As my daughter would say to the safety advocates, ” Suck it up buttercup!”
    These H.O.S. issues are sounding more like a drivers meeting. Wasteful issues and waste of taxpayers money.It is no wonder this industry says they don’t have the funds for training, enforcement and wages. They are spending it to see if one hour a day will save a million deaths a year because that one hour means 250,000 truck drivers will be driving impaired. OMG.
    It has been scientifically proven 6-8 hours of continuous sleep is healthy. Until EOBR’s are in every single commercial vehicle driver’s will run as they wish and re-write their logbooks to compliancy, no matter what the H.O.S’s are. The hours of service are fine, now put it to rest and move on to issues that will actually improve the industry. Is that not the purpose of CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability). Quit wasting our money.

  4. L. Henderson says:

    Just where are all these drivers supposed to park while they are sleeping. The truck stops and rest areas are jammed full as it is right now. It’s already a proven fact that the majority of car/truck accidents are caused by the car drivers. Start coming down on them! What about shift workers is legislation going to come out saying no one works between midnight and 6 a.m. so they can sleep? I doubt it. It seems the current HOS aren’t doing that bad of a job (as long as FMCSA doesn’t rig the numbers), so leave well enough alone.

  5. Everyone should make rules according to their employees, what they suites.Everything would be ok, only when all employees satisfied

  6. Robert D. Scheper says:

    Excellent reporting and position Lou. I remember someone once quoting… there are lies, dam lies and then there are statistics. One cannot escape the implication there is a political agenda happening or at the very least a beurocratic agenda. Sometimes (and I’m not implying this is the exclusive case) government departments (who operate in an isolated room somewhere) pop their heads out to retrieve some ordinary data or current crisis, they manipulate (spin) the data into something that makes their government department look like their actually solving some problem (thus providing support for a request for continual or even additional department funding). It’s beurocratic self-propagation… what’s needed is a “Reagan Machete”.

  7. john says:

    As you well know, the human body runs on a twenty four hour body clock, there fore we should some how implement sixteen hours on duty which would include all duties including driving. The driving would be divided into two legs with a t least a one or two hour food, coffee, power nap break during the sixteen hour on duty portion. After that the driver would get to sleep at the same time during a twenty four hour clock. This would greatly reduse driver’s using two log books to make their runs.

  8. Gary Woodley says:

    In my opinion, this has been a bullshit topic for years, log books, hours of service have been a revenue generating convenience for the government on both sides of the border period!!! Let me give you a bit of history about myself. I grew up around trucks and have over 4 millions miles of safe driving without a chargeable accident, never had a safety violation at a scale. I have had a only one log book violation at a scale only because the daily inspection was not filled out properly. I got out of the long distance driving for a few reasons,but the main reason was government bullshit legislation. If the government really wanted to have safe roads, they would enforce vehicle safety as appose to log books! But lets face it 99% of the officers at the scale don’t want to get dirty, they would rather do a paper scan on you, it is much cleaner and generates more revenue.
    Gary Woodley

  9. Alex Bardos says:

    I would like to see some of the officials explain the dichotomy between the Canadaian hours of operation and the US Hours of operation.
    We must understand that safety is PRIMORDIAL , and the main concern setting the hours of service.
    What can possibly be the paramaters that are used that can come up with a two hour (20%) discrepancy.
    May I suggest the following: Canadian drivers are super human, they can drive 2 hours more than Americans each day and after they have finsihed driving they still have the energy and frame of mind to work an hour longer than their American counterparts.
    Charles Darwin was spot on, his theory of evolution must be the reason that Canadian drivers have evolved into the SUPERIOR BREED. It must be due to the cold climate and endless nights that we have adapted. There must also be more entertaining scenery running through the Canadian prairies than the US Corn and wheat belt, helping our tired drivers avoid boredom , hence tiredness.
    For those of us that are not sure about the theory of evolution, may I suggest that there are other forces, mainly monetary and political that account for the difference. Furthermore, parameters for the present US rules were set back in 1949, when equipment was much less operator friendly and there were few if any interstate highways, making the drivers day hard and tiring.
    Why is the relative ease of today’s drivers not factored into this new equation? Basicaly, the hours of service remains a sham until both sides of the border can agree to the same parameters. In conclusion, why bother with arguing the new rules, let the two governements fight it out. One is clearly wrong!!!!

  10. TOM MACKAY says:

    FOR THIRTY YEARS I WAS MARRIED TO A NURSE WHO WORKED 12 HOUR SHIFTS, 7 TO 7. I WOULD GET OUT OF BED AND SHE WOULD GET IN REGARDSLESS OF A.M. OR P.M. THIS WENT ON FOR MANY YEARS. IT WAS NOT UNCOMMON FOR MY WIFE TO PULL A DOUBLE SHIFT DUE TO ANOTHERS ILLNESS, IN OTHER WORDS, SHE WOULD WORK 24 HOURS WITHOUT REST. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE HAVING A VERY SLEEPY NURSE CARRING FOR YOUR HEALTH? NO LOG OF HER HOURS WAS REQUIRED! MOST DRIVERS I HAVE ENCOUNTERED KNOW WHEN TO PULL OVER AND SLEEP IF ONLY FOR 1/2 HOUR TO AN HOUR. I HAVE DRIVEN TRACTOR TRAILER AND KNOW WHEN I’M DUE FOR A CAT NAP TO REVIVE MYSELF IF FOR ONLY TWO OR THREE HOURS MORE. LEGISLATORS SHOULD BE REQUIRED TO TAKE A RIDE ALONG FOR A WEEK TO SEE WHAT THE JOB ENTAILS AND HOW SAFETY IS REALLY AFFECTED BY SLEEPY DRIVERS. TAKE A RIDE ACROSS MANITOBA FOR TWO HOURS THEN DRIVE TORONTO DURING RUSH HOUR AND SEE WHAT ACTUALLY TAKES IT’S TOLL! WHATS THE INCIDENT OF TRUCK CRASHES CAUSED BY LACK OF SLEEP COMPARED TO CAR CRASHES CAUSED BY THE SAME PROBLEM? HOW MANY MEMBERS OF PARLIMENT FIGHT WITH ONEANOTHER FOR EIGHT HOURS THEN DRIVE FOR HOME FOR THE NEXT 5 OR 6 HOURS? IT’S TIME TO STOP CREATING NEW LAWS WHICH HAVE LITTLE BEARING ON SAFETY. INTERESTING HOW THESE SAME LEGISLATORS DRIVE WELL OVER THE SPEED LIMIT. HOW DO I KNOW THIS? THEY HAVE SPECIAL LICENCE PLATES ON THEIR CARS!!! BY THE WAY, I SLEEP ABOUT 4 OR FIVE HOURS IN A TWENTY FOUR HOUR PERIOD AND I’M BACK ON THE ROAD. I DRIVE A PICK-UP TRUCK!

  11. Frank says:

    ANYTHING THE GOVERMENT TOUCHES THEY SCREW UP.THEY CAN’T GET ANYTHING RIGHT.

  12. Henry Reimer says:

    If changes are made to the HOS rules, I suggest that there is more flexibility on off-duty time.
    There must be an allowance for a rest time during your driving period. It is a proven fact, by research and by personal experience, that a single anchor sleep, needs to be supplemented by a nap in a peak circadian cycle. The Canadian HOS rules address this quite effectively. Another point is that there ought to be flexibility in rules enforcement, and that the HOS legislation is primarily there to protect the driver from being unduly pressured. If everyone involved shows a mature attitude toward safety, the rules should be offered as an industry guideline. I can cite many examples where drivers have worked-to-the-rule over listening to their body’s needs.

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