These letters appears in the Feb. 22 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
Restart Rule a Danger
Federal agencies and the trucking industry both recognize the health and welfare of commercial motor vehicle drivers is imperative to protecting public safety. But as you would expect, there is disagreement over the means to achieve this end.
While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration insists that the hours-of-service final rule creates a safer transportation environment, industry leaders argue that the rule creates additional highway hazards.
These conflicting opinions demonstrate the difficulty in finding an avenue to motor transportation safety.
FMCSA’s HOS final rule mandates that truck drivers who reach 70 hours of driving within a week must rest for34 consecutive hours. This includes two consecutive periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. that went into effect in 2013.
However, Congress temporarily suspended this regulation in 2014 and extended the suspension in the 2015 Appropriations Act to give FMCSA more time to evaluate its effectiveness. The suspension will continue until FMCSA submits the Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Restart Study final report to Congress.
As part of the restart study, the agency compared — over five months — fatigue levels, alertness and crash rates of drivers abiding by the 34-hour restart provision against drivers not controlled by the provision. While the study has yet to be completed, FMCSA insists the provision promotes the safety of the motoring public by improving driver health.
Conversely, the American Transportation Research Institute conducted an investigation of the 34-hour provision and found strikingly different results. ATRI found that abiding by the restart provision, truck traffic shifted from nighttime to the more congested daytime and from weekends to weekdays. By increasing traffic exposure during weekday travel time, more truck crashes resulted, directly contradicting FMCSA’s stated objective.
ATRI’s study also found the restart provision was detrimental to truck drivers’ health. Instead of allowing drivers to choose when to rest, the restart provision eliminated driver flexibility and autonomy, forcing them to take continuous 34-hour breaks at a set time — putting drivers on the road during rush hour and increasing driver stress and anxiety while driving.
Additionally, an Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association survey found that 46% of respondents felt more fatigued while operating under the provision.
ATRI’s study concluded that the rule negatively affected the American economy through increased traffic on public roads. Because the provision requires drivers to follow the previously mentioned rest time, truckers are on the road during rush hour.
ATRI estimates that this loss of industry productivity could be 2% to 3%.
While this may sound negligible, it is anything but. Government estimates suggest each percentage-point loss in productivity amounts to an industrywide cost of at least $356 million per year.
Drivers also felt these negative economic consequences. OOIDA found 65% of drivers received less income while operating under the rule.
Research does not support the safety claims attributed to the 34-hour restart provision. Not only are FMCSA’s alleged benefits speculative, but the rule is an active threat to road safety, driver health and the American economy.
Logistics Supply Chain Coalition
Is it time to deregulate the driver’s hours of service? I think so.
I propose that no one can regulate a driver’s time. To regulate a driver’s on-duty time, you would have to regulate the driver’s off-duty time as well. And that cannot be done.
What we are trying to do is ensure that a driver who operates a commercial truck on the highway is adequately rested and capable of preforming the duties to move a heavy truck from one point to another without incident.
Doing shift work is hard enough, but having someone trying to tell a person doing shift work when to sleep just does not work. Some people have a real problem with sleeping, and no one other than the driver knows when he or she needs to rest.
In my past, I have had more than 300 drivers on a seniority board, and they would come in from a run in the afternoon after a 500-mile trip and then go home. They usually lived within 60 miles from the trucking terminal.
I would imagine that they did not immediately go to bed when they got home, but they would be back on call to report for work eight hours after they arrived from their previous trip. They would get a call at 3 a.m. and report for work at 5 a.m. So, after driving 60 miles back to the terminal, they made another 500-mile trip to deliver their load.
So let’s do the math: For the first trip, it took about an hour to get to the terminal. They then drive 10 hours round trip in a truck. Then they drive about one hour home in their car. Then about eight hours later, they drive another hour in the car going back to the terminal, then drive 10 hours round trip in a truck. Including time to and from home, they have driven 1,120 miles in 22 hours over two days.
While this scenario fits within HOS parameters, and we figured that they were well-rested when they went to work, that was not something we could quantitatively verify — and neither could regulators.
While electronic logging devices have the potential to force a driver to rest during certain hours, they don’t have the ability to tell when a driver is fatigued.
So my suggestion is: Let’s start paying drivers by the hour and give them a chance to rest when they need it. Let them stop after a few hours on the road and then hit the rest button. And don’t be the trucking company that tries to coerce drivers to work longer hours when they should be resting. Drivers need undisturbed rest for their safety and the safety of the motoring public.
GEA Farm Technologies Inc.