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Breaking news: FMCSA says 34-hour restart study shows provision will improve safety

The FMCSA’s claim that the new 34-hour provision is the right rule to combat fatigue is certain to set off a firestorm of criticism from trucking executives and professional truck drivers.

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

1/30/2014

WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration today released its long-awaited field study on the new 34-hour restart rule, saying the study proved that the provision would reduce fatigue and improve safety in the trucking industry.

The agency said the real world, third-party study provided further scientific evidence that the restart provision in the current Hours of Service rule for truck drivers is more effective at combating fatigue than the prior version.

The new version permits a restart only once every 168 hours. The previous version had no restrictions on how often the restart could be used.

Scientists measured sleep, reaction time, sleepiness and driving performance in the study. They found 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.

“This new study confirms the science we used to make the hours-of-service rule more effective at preventing crashes that involve sleepy or drowsy truck drivers,” said Federal Motor Carrier Administrator Anne S. Ferro. “For the small percentage of truckers that average up to 70 hours of work a week, two nights of rest is better for their safety and the safety of everyone on the road.”

The study was conducted by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and Philadelphia-based Pulsar Informatics, Inc. It is one of the largest real-world studies ever conducted with commercial motor vehicle drivers, and included 106 participants, 1,260 days of data and nearly 415,000 miles of driving that were recorded by the truck-based data acquisition systems.

Working long hours on a continuing basis is associated with chronic fatigue, a high risk of crashes and a number of serious chronic health conditions in drivers. The updated 34-hour restart, includes two nighttime periods from 1 to 5 a.m., and is intended to provide sufficient time for a driver to recuperate from cumulative fatigue if they work beyond the weekly maximum on-duty limits.

Analysis shows that the rule will prevent approximately 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries, and save 19 lives each year. Only the most extreme schedules in which drivers are working more than 70 hours in one week will be impacted, and the vast majority of workforce – more than 85 percent – will see little to no change in their schedules as a result.

The FMCSA’s claim is certain to set off a firestorm of criticism from trucking executives and professional truck drivers.

Those executives maintain the new provision has cut productivity anywhere from 4 to 8 percent and is contributing to the increasing shortage of drivers.

Drivers maintain the new provision has cut the number of miles they can get in a week and thus reduced their pay.

There were two major changes in the rule that became effective July 1 of last year and trucking abhors both — the 34-hour restart provision and the required 30-minute break.

The bombardment started on HOS after the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was issued in December 2010 when American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said the FMCSA had dropped “three chunks of coal in trucking’s Christmas stocking.”

It was a reference to the new restart provision, the 30-minute break and the agency’s stated preference for limiting daily driving time to 10 hours. The FMCSA said in the final rule it could not justify the preferred 10-hour limit and left the limit at 11 hours a day.

The assault on the new rule has been non-stop since, with trucking stakeholders pleading with the FMCSA to delay implementation until after the 34-restart study was completed.

After only five months, ATA officials called the rule a “mistake.”

“From the outset, ATA was confident the HOS rule changes were based on politics, not data,” Graves said. “We’re now seeing mounting evidence that rather than solving anything, these rules are creating many problems for drivers and fleets alike.”

 “I’ve seen the impact these rules have had on my fleet, and clearly I’m not alone,” said ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog Hiway Express. “We’ve seen the Wall Street Journal document the impacts twice in less than a week, the American Transportation Research Institute publish evidence of the costs and additional challenges caused by these rules and tomorrow Congress is going to put these regulations under the microscope.”

Byrd was referring to a House Small Business Subcommittee in mid November where Ferro was raked over the coals by legislators and truck drivers about the new rules.

“What do you say to somebody who has spent not two days but a lifetime in a truck and says [the new hours] has upset their sleep … ,” said House Small Business Subcommittee Chairman Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., referring to the two-day trip Ferro had taken earlier in a big rig.

“You’re saying the rule helps and truckers on the road don’t think it does,” he said.  

“By now it should be clear that these rules were a mistake – everyone can see it,” Byrd said. “FMCSA should listen to the facts and roll back this ill-advised rule.”

Generally, industry stakeholders are saying that the new rule is reducing productivity by anywhere from 4 percent to 8 percent.

In a survey released in October at the ATA’s Management Conference and Exhibition, the American Transportation Research Institute released its Top 10 “Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry 2013” and Hours of Service headed the list.

Just one day after the ARTI survey was released, ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello said 72.8 percent of carriers surveyed by the organization said they were finding it harder to find qualified drivers now than they were one year ago.

ARTI Chairman Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick Transportation, said the “churn of driver turnover” was a result of the new rule.

“I can attest to the fact that the industry is spending tens of millions of dollars to just retain a lot of driver population and certainly has an awful lot of empty trucks and it is being exacerbated by the age demographics of the driver population,” he said.

The ATRI survey, which included responses from motor carriers and drivers alike, was taken just as the new HOS rule was being implemented last July, a regulation that trucking stakeholders predicted would cut productivity.

Asked if Maverick had assessed losses in productivity, Williams said his drivers had lost miles and were frustrated.

The new restriction on the use of the 34-hour restart had decreased home time for drivers, he said.

“Before the new rule, we were able to get 90 percent of our drivers home on the weekend, and now that has dropped to 80 percent,” Williams said.

A former chairman of the ATA, Williams also took exception to the required 30-minute break that has to be taken no more than eight hours after going on duty.

“Like I said when I testified before Congress earlier this year about the new rule, it’s not just 30 minutes of lost time,” he said, noting that by the time drivers had found a place to rest, got off and then back on the road, as much as 60-75 minutes had elapsed.

From the Congressional angle, Hanna continued his assault on the new rule when he met with members of the trucking community to discuss what he called the negative impacts a new federal rule is having on the trucking industry, small businesses and everyday consumers in the New York Mohawk Valley.

On Oct. 30, Hanna introduced what he named the TRUE (True Understanding of the Economy) Safety Act that would at least temporarily reinstate the unrestricted use of the 34-hour restart provision.

The bill was originally introduced with two co-sponsors but that soon grew to as many as 60 co-sponsors from both political parties.

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Kelly Ayotte.

Both bills were referred to committee. No action has been taken on either.

The new HOS rule was expected to result in an annual cost of $376 million to the trucking industry and to have negative impacts on other small businesses which rely on trucking services such as timely delivery of food, retail and construction products, Hanna said when he introduced the bill.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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