Are the proposed changes to US trucking’s hours of service rules based on solid science?
January 30, 2011
January 30, 2011
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.
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. All posts by Lou Smyrlis