Fatigue Studies Flawed, Groups Tell FMCSA

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the June 13 print edition of Transport Topics.

Trucker and shipper organizations unanimously told federal regulators last week that four new driver-fatigue studies introduced into the public record last month are flawed and do not support changes called for in a proposed federal hours-of-service rule.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which placed the studies in the Federal Register on May 9, said they were not completed in time to be included in the record when the agency first proposed the new hours-of-service rule on Dec. 23. The agency closed public comment on the four studies June 8.

Two of the new studies focused on truck driver fatigue, and two dealt with intrastate bus driver fatigue in Florida.

The Florida bus driver fatigue studies were largely discounted by the comment makers because intrastate bus drivers’ hours-of-service and rest-period rules widely differ.

In comments to FMCSA, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said the studies “add little to the debate” over the agency’s proposed hours-of-service rule.

In its HOS proposal, FMCSA said it was leaning toward cutting driving hours back to 10 from 11 and modifying the 34-hour reset provision by requiring that it include two rest periods of at least six hours and mandating that they fall between midnight and 6 a.m.

“The four supplemental studies addressed in these comments, which are either irrelevant or inconsistent, preliminary and incomplete in important respects, do not provide a solid basis for switching gears at this time,” OOIDA said. OOIDA opposes the HOS rule.

At press time, only a handful of trade organizations had commented on the four studies.

American Trucking Associations, which commissioned a detailed critique of the studies, called into question their validity.

ATA’s reviewer, Ron Knipling, criticized the truck driver fatigue study done by researchers at the Thomas D. Larson Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Pennsylvania State University. “It would be erroneous and unwarranted to accept Penn State’s principal findings and conclusions without extensive re-analysis, internal validation and external replication,” said Knipling, a truck and road safe-ty researcher and consultant who once headed FMCSA’s research division.

Regarding a truck driver fatigue study by researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, Knipling concluded that “more probing and self-challenging analyses” must be performed before the study’s findings can be “accepted as sound science.”

Knipling questioned the findings of the Florida bus driver studies, saying, “The significant differences between Florida’s transit bus operator work (hours-of-service) rules and those for interstate truck drivers render schedule-related research findings from one largely inapplicable to the other.”

Knipling also noted that the risk for all types of truck crashes increased during daytime driving, which was “consistent with increased exposure.”

The National Industrial Transportation League also said the studies do not support a new hours-of-service rule.

“None of the studies that the administration has added to the docket indicate that the proposed HOS rules will increase safety,” NITL said. “Further, two of the studies use an irrelevant data source and a third overlooks the proximate causes of crashes.”

“The Pennsylvania State University study suffers from critical analysis flaws,” NITL wrote. “It implies that fatigue causes the crash risk to generally increase with each driving hour, but makes no attempt to verify that the underlying crashes were caused by fatigue.”

The Virginia Tech study “fails to validate its conclusions that the increased crash risk over a 14-hour duty period or after a rest period is a matter of driver fatigue,” NITL said.

The National Association of Small Trucking Companies said the four studies do not establish a factual or scientific basis for changing the current hours-of-service requirements for over-the-road truckers, nor do they contain current fatigue-management data.

“The agency should allow private industry to propose and conduct pilot programs aimed at measuring fatigue, not hours of service, and allowing reasonable driver flexibility to get miles and get home,” NASTC said.

Joint comments by Nasstrac and the Health and Personal Care Logistics Conference said none of the studies acknowledge that FMCSA is implementing its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program or that the agency is dramatically increasing the use of electronic logging devices, steps that would make the industry safer.

“Moreover, the new studies focus on small samples of drivers but ignore the clear trend toward fewer crashes and fatalities shown by DOT’s own statistics as to the larger universe of truck drivers operating nationwide since 2004, when the current hours-of-service rules became effective,” the two groups said.