DOT trumped up benefits in HOS impact report: Study

ARLINGTON, Va. — Critics who say the US DOT’s new hours-of-service proposal is too costly and based on bad research received some ammunition this week.

An independent review of the FMCSA’s HOS "Regulatory Impact Analysis" found that the government grossly overstated the net benefits of its proposed changes, which, states the report, is based on questionable logic, inadequate data and sloppy math.

Edgeworth Economics conducted the analysis at the behest the American Trucking Associations, a vocal critic of the proposal.

The report finds that the agency overstated the net benefits of the proposed rule by about $700 million annually. Instead, it would impose a net cost on society by about $320 million a year.

"FMCSA has made a number of substantial changes to its approach since the previous [regulatory impact analysis] issued in 2007," stated Edgeworth, a well-respected firm that has done work for the EPA, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the National Football League Players Association.

"We find that, in every instance, FMCSA’s new methodologies and assumptions increase the apparent net benefits of the proposed rule. However, many of FMCSA’s new approaches rely on misapplication of available data, use outdated information, or lack empirical support entirely."

Other significant errors, according to the Edgeworth report, include:

* Overestimating of the total number of hours at issue. "In particular, the agency fails to consider that carriers sampled in (previous 2005-2007) surveys, particularly those chosen because of poor safety performance, may use drivers more intensely than other carriers."

FMCSA also inflates the extent to which drivers in those surveys actually exceeded 9 hours of driving or 13 hours of work "and assumes, inappropriately, that (those) drivers be out of compliance with current HOS rules would nonetheless comply with the new, more restrictive rules."

* The agency "abandoned its model of carrier logistics," which it used to calculate the impact of possible HOS rule changes in 2007. Instead, FMCSA estimates costs using a "series of assumptions based only on the agency’s ‘judgment and knowledge of the industry," states the report, which resulted, conveniently, in an estimated production reduction of 2.8 percent, compared to a previous finding of 7.1 percent for similar changes.

* The report also suggests FMCSA exaggerated the risk of driver fatigue and the extent a reduction in hours would reduce that risk. For one thing, the agency nearly doubled the percentage of crashes it considers to be fatigue related (13% from 7%) compared to its 2007 Large Truck Crash Causation Study.

As well, the study notes that FMCSA is treating fatigue as an "associated factor" as if it were the actual "cause" of that crash, "despite the fact that many crashes have multiple associated factors."

And the agency fails to adjust for "oversampling of single-vehicle crashes, which further inflates the agency’s measure of fatigue risk for the industry as a whole."

* FMCSA further errs by assuming that the risk of a crash is the same during a non-driving work hour as it is during a driving hour, "which is clearly false, and by rounding up any reductions in work time to a whole hour, even if the calculated effect is only a small fraction of an hour."

* Perhaps most tellingly, FMCSA calculates the cost of crashes by long-haul drivers using an assumption of 434,000 crashes per year, which is the level during the 2000-2003 period. As the review rightfully notes, truck crashes have fallen substantially and steadily since then — to a record low of 286,000 in 2009 – resulting in a 34-percent overstatement.

* FMCSA’s new stance that small reductions in work time under the proposed rule will translate improved driver health are based on two "fundamentally flawed" analysis.

"FMCSA assumes that an observed correlation between work time and sleep time for truck drivers can be used as a basis to assume that small reductions in work will result in proportional increases in sleep for drivers."

Yet, the agency itself admits it has no basis for estimating the extent to which drivers will use their mandatory hour off-duty to exercise and sleep" but its cost-benefits analysis relies precisely on such an assumption."

Second, FMCSA "attributes reductions in mortality to very small changes in sleep levels for drivers who already obtain a “normal” amount of sleep, despite a lack of adequate support from sleep research and previous acknowledgement by the agency that such benefits were not measurable."


"Edgeworth’s analysis pretty clearly shows that FMCSA’s proposal isn’t rooted in sound science, good data or logic, and can’t stand up to scrutiny," American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said.

During today’s "public listening sessions" on the hours-of-service proposal, ATA senior VP Dave Osiecki told the agency to put facts and data before politics.

“Policy changes must be based on sound research and data, not pressure or politics,” Osiecki, ATA’s senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs, told FMCSA official, and their benefits must outweigh the costs,” he said. “The proposed HOS changes do not pass the test on any of these principles.”

Osiecki noted that those pillars are at the core of the Obama administration’s recent declaration to improve the regulatory process, yet are ignored by FMCSA in this proposal.

In an attempt to justify one component of its proposal, FMCSA leans on a study of just 12 people conducted at an in-residence laboratory and released just weeks before the agency’s proposal. The study itself recommends “validation of the study findings . . . in a real-world field study,” Osiecki said.

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