This story appears in the March 13 print edition of Transport Topics.
A congressionally mandated study on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s hours-of-service restart rule failed to demonstrate conclusively that a controversial 2013 restart rule, calling for two consecutive nights of rest, provided “a greater net benefit for the operational, safety, health and fatigue impacts” on drivers.
FMCSA said the study of 235 commercial vehicle drivers, made public March 9, showed no significant difference in safety-critical events per hundred hours of driving using the pre-2013 one-day restart — which required drivers to take a single, 34-hour break — versus those using the two-night restart provision. The suspended 2013 hours-of-service rule required a 34-hour restart with a weekly limit, and two consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. rest periods, limiting the use of the restart to once per 168 hours a week.
After Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao submits the study report to Congress, the pre-July 2013 restart will be in effect.
The study found no significant difference in drivers’ perceived stress levels using the two different restart periods, nor was there significant difference in the hours worked per day by drivers using the two restart periods, the study said. Further, drivers using the one-night restart provision did not have slower reaction times than those using the two-night restart.
However, researchers said that the study did provide evidence that drivers were in need of sleep when they undertook a restart, and that when they slept, it was for much longer than when they slept on work-duty days.
“When comparing a one-night restart to a two-night restart, drivers rated themselves as more fatigued during the one-night restarts, and their sleep quality was lower during the one-night restart than during the two-night restart. However, their sleep quality ratings did not differ during duty periods following a one-night or two-night restart,” the study found. Put another way, drivers following a one-night restart schedule may have been more tired when the time came for a break, but they were just as well-rested as those following a two-night break pattern when they returned to duty.
The study also calculated that drivers’ mean driving hours per 24 hours in duty periods were: 8.22 hours for drivers using a one-night restart, 8.08 hours for drivers using a two night restart and 8.00 hours for drivers using a restart of more than two nights.
The $4 million FMCSA study, conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, compared work schedules and assessed operator fatigue for two groups of drivers — those operating under the original pre-July 2013 restart provisions and those operating under the July 2013 restart provisions that were temporarily suspended by Congress in late 2014, pending the study results.
Participating drivers came from a diverse range of trucking operations, types and locations. They worked their normal schedules and performed their normal duties for a period lasting as long as five months.
They were continuously monitored using electronic logging devices to track hours of service, onboard monitoring systems to detect safety-critical events, wrist actigraph devices to monitor sleep-wake timing and smartphone-based apps for self-ratings of fatigue, sleepiness, stress, caffeine intake and to perform the Brief Psychomotor Vigilance Test of alertness.
Prior to the study, FMCSA had maintained that the two-day rest period would provide safer, better- rested drivers than a pre-2013 hours-of-service rule requiring only a one-night restart period used by carriers ever since the two-night restart was suspended by Congress.
The study concluded that the extensive “naturalistic investigation” yielded both expected and unexpected findings.
“The use of one-night, two-night and more-than-two-night restarts was expected, as was the additional sleep time the restart afforded drivers for recovery from work fatigue and reduced sleep time when working,” the study said. “The small number of significant effects from the type of restart used for each provision was unexpected.”
American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear said the trucking industry was pleased that the report found no benefit to the “onerous and unjustified restrictions placed on the use of the 34-hour restart by professional drivers.”
“As we expected, the restrictions imposed by the Obama administration in 2013 yielded no safety benefit to America’s truck drivers,” an ATA spokesman said. “Had the agency undertaken a more data-driven, inclusive rulemaking process at the time, this long and largely unnecessary process could have been avoided.
However, the spokesman said the study does indicate there is a need to identify ways to increase the amount of time drivers spend sleeping within the 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time.
ATA has fought against the restrictions (which limited driver flexibility in the use of the restart) since they were first proposed in 2013.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association also expressed approval of the report.
“It’s not only common sense, it’s trucker sense,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. “We have always championed the need for flexibility in the hours-of-service regulations so that drivers can drive when rested and avoid times of heavy congestion or bad weather conditions.”