Trucking safer than ever under current HOS: study

ARLINGTON, Va. — Carriers have even more evidence that the current hours-of-service rules work properly; and, while some improvements could still be made, the law has generally made trucking safer.

Although special interest groups are busy trying to convince DOT policy makers that the HOS rules enacted in 2004 led to more tired and dangerous truckers, a new report by the American Transportation Research Institute (an offshoot of the American Trucking Associations) shows that collisions and preventable accidents have fallen significantly since then.

ATRI gathered data from nearly 260 motor carriers, representing over 127,000 commercial drivers for the survey, which compares 2009 safety figures to those collected in 2004 as part of a previous HOS study.

The data shows that the total collision rate per million miles dropped for all fleets surveyed by 11.7 percent between 2004 and 2009 (TL 10.6%, LTL 8.5%), while preventable collisions dropped a whopping 30.6 percent for all carriers (TL 21%, LTL 13.6%).

As for when trucks get into crashes, the survey found that the large majority (87%) of commercial motor vehicle collisions occurred within the first eight hours of driving, with just 12 percent occurring in the 9-11th hours.

Specifically, "collisions occurred most often within the first three hours of driving and sharply decreased following the sixth hour." A miniscule number of collisions occur beyond the 11th hour of driving.

That appears to be consistent with other available collision data. The Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents” (TIFA) database, which is maintained by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, shows that in 2007, 80 percent of the fatal truck collisions occurred within the first eight hours of driving. 

The majority of crashes are caused by four (and two-)
wheelers, but truckers have managed to steadily
reduce fatalities since the HOS rules took effect.

The DOT says that number is around 90 percent; and less than one percent of fatal collisions occur after the 11th hour.

As well, the DOT’s own recordable collisions data shows that the fatality rate in truck-involved accidents has steadily improved for five straight years, falling to 1.86 per 100 million miles from 2.12 per 100 million miles in 2007.

This ATRI survey is another blow to the arguments made by special interest groups like Public Citizen. With virtually no evidence at hand, the group and others claim that the current rules actually contribute to more fatigue-related crashes. They’ve tried several times to get the rules thrown out; and over the years, judges have agreed with some aspects of their challenge.

While the DOT under President Bush fought those efforts, the Obama administration announced last fall that it would rewrite the rules, yet again. While nothing has been set, there’s credible speculation that the 11-hour base driving rule and 34-hour restart provision could be altered or even scrapped, as urged by the special interest groups and unions.

In one of the few attempts to explain the decision, U.S. Transport Secretary Ray LaHood said at the time: "Safety is our highest priority at the [DOT] and so we believe that starting over and developing a rule that can help save lives is the smart thing to do."

But, as the ATA and other truckers have pointed out repeatedly, the current rules proved to have saved plenty of lives by reducing fatal incidents.

Another "myth" sowed by these groups is that the 34-hour restart allows significantly longer driving and on-duty times in a week than the pre-2004 rules.

The ATRI study found that the restart is used by three quarters of drivers, but on average less than three times a month. When it is used, though, many drivers find that it gives them more rest and time off, not less.

Furthermore, not all drivers come close to using up all their allowable driving hours, states ATRI. About 61 percent of drivers reported using part of their 11th driving hour, while 52 percent said they consistently use their whole last hour. 

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