ARLINGTON, Va. — Just a few months after special interest groups convinced the U.S. DOT to rewrite hours of service rules because truckers supposedly weren’t safe enough, the industry posted the largest ever year-to-year drop in truck-involved fatalities.
Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) figures released by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) data on crashes show that truck fatalities dropped by a whopping 12.3 percent in 2008 from the year before.
The truck-related injury rate also improved over 2007, going from 44.4 per 100 million miles to 39.6, an 11 percent reduction.
This marks the fifth straight year the fatality rate has improved, falling to 1.86 per 100 million miles from 2.12 per 100 million miles in 2007.
Perhaps not coincidently, that’s just about the same length of time that the current HOS rules have been in place.
Since then, the truck-involved fatality rate has come down more than 20 percent and is at its lowest since the U.S. DOT began keeping those records in 1975.
Still, the positive trend isn’t enough for special interest groups like Public Citizen, the Teamsters and the anti-truck lobby group CRASH, which have been trying to overturn the rules in court since they took effect in 2004.
In October, rather than continue defending the pillars holding up the rules, the DOT under the Obama administration relented and agreed to rewrite them.
It’s widely rumored that the new rules will be stricter for carriers and allow less driving time than the HOS regime currently in place.
"The current Hours of Service (HOS) rules are working," said ATA Senior Vice President Dave Osiecki, who was the first of 21 speakers at a listening session on HOS opened by Administrator Anne Ferro.
Osiecki urged the agency to retain them "but add flexibility to the sleeper berth provision."
Under a previous version of the 2004 rules, truckers were allowed to obtain the necessary 10 off-duty hours by splitting their sleeper berth in two periods of their own choosing, as long as one was a minimum of two hours long.
Drivers overwhelmingly liked the provision, but at the behest of critics, the FMCSA changed it in 2005 to force drivers to rest for eight hours in a row, and take another two consecutive hours off-duty before resetting their daily schedule.
In his remarks, Osiecki said that the current HOS rules are based on a decade of extensive research and analysis. Plus, the government now has extensive data from several years "of real world, operational trucking experience" and it should refer to it.
"In the very real world of trucking, highway safety has improved in the past six years under these rules,” he said, adding that allowing "circadian friendly" naps in the sleeper berth provision would improve the rules further.
Osiecki said that safety concerns hypothesized by critics "simply failed to occur in the real world."
"Absent new data, these predictions must continue to be rejected by FMCSA and (DOT) and should, in no way, be a basis for any proposed changes."
To better address the true causes of fatigue in transportation, concluded Osiecki, FMCSA should focus its resources on sleep disorder awareness, training and screening; promoting the use of Fatigue Risk Management Programs; and increasing the availability of truck parking on important freight corridors and better identify for drivers the location of available parking.
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