The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said that a new study, by the Sleep and Performance Research Center, Washington State University and Pulsar Informatics Inc., indicates its current restart rules in the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations are more effective at combating fatigue than prior rules. This conclusion was immediately rebuked by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), as well as by several members of Congress.
The study involved 106 commercial drivers working for three carriers that provided 1,260 days of data from electronic log devices and wrist activity monitors. Drivers’ fatigue levels were measured three times per day by means of a Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT) and by means of subjective sleepiness scores. A truck-mounted lane tracking system measured lane deviation (variability in lateral lane position).
The drivers totaled 414,937 miles from January to July 2013. That would indicate that each driver averaged 329 miles per day, so it is clearly not a study of over-the-road drivers who are most impacted by the restart rule. In fact, only 36 of the drivers were over-the-road drivers, 44 were local drivers, and 26 were regional. By type of operation, only 3 were running in over-the-road van operations, 48 were intermodal, 32 were dedicated, 13 were flatbed, 7 were temperature controlled, and 3 were owner operators.
FMCSA said the study concluded that “drivers who began their work week with just one nighttime period of rest, as compared to the two nights in the updated 34-hour restart break: exhibited more lapses of attention, especially at night;
reported greater sleepiness, especially toward the end of their duty periods; and
showed increased lane deviation in the morning, afternoon and at night.”
The ATA immediately questioned the validity of the study. According to Transport Topics, “ATA said the study failed to evaluate the safety effects of the once-per-week restart restriction, commonly called the 168-hour rule, nor did it address the real-world safety implications of putting more trucks on the road during daytime hours, when more passenger vehicles are also on the road.” Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice president and chief of national advocacy, said “While the study includes some findings favorable to certain portions of the new restart rule, the incomplete nature of the analysis and the lack of justification for the once-weekly use restriction is consistent with the flawed analyses that led the agency to make these changes in the first place.”
Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y. was also critical, stating: “Considering the study arrived four months late, I expected a robust report, but the study is worthless.” He continued, “First, FMCSA is telling millions of truckers when they are tired, but the study only examined 100 truckers from three companies. In addition, the study’s narrow scope does not address perhaps the most serious issue that could change the entire outcome of the study – forcing truckers to work in the morning rush hour when roads are most congested and dangerous. This half-baked study only underscores the need to legislatively delay the rule and have GAO conduct an independent analysis of the study so we can get a credible account of what this rule will truly mean for the safety of truckers, commuters and businesses.”
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said, “Unfortunately this was a study that was sort of thrown together, but realistically we don’t think it’s representative of the industry that was supposed to be the beneficiary (or the victim depending on your point of view) of the new regulations. This was a really, really small sample size, only 106 drivers. And the majority of those drivers didn’t even run over the road. Obviously that is where the 34-hour restart provision was supposed to have an impact. I’m skeptical that you can extrapolate any conclusion from this to the broader population of truck drivers.”
Common sense would lead one to conclude that putting more trucks on the road in morning rush hour would lead to more crashes, not fewer. In addition, the decline in driver productivity means more new drivers need to be recruited and hired, and they are not likely to be as safe as the experienced professional truck drivers on the road today. It also seems obvious that a professional truck driver is better equipped than Washington bureaucrats to decide what time of day he or she needs to sleep.