Hours of Service Ain't Broke, So Don’t Fix Them, Says NASSTRAC

June 15, 2011
NASSTRAC says the FMCSA's new data on hours of service don't offer any compelling reason to change the current rules

Leave well enough alone. That’s the basic message NASSTRAC is sending to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regarding the current hours of service rules for motor carriers.

In a joint filing with the Health and Personal Care Logistics Conference, NASSTRAC, an industry association that represents freight shippers in all modes of transportation, filed supplemental comments with FMCSA urging the agency to maintain the current hours of service rules.

After reviewing four new studies, NASSTRAC concluded that they do not provide additional data that would warrant FMCSA's proposed changes to the current hours of service rules. Two of the studies involve bus transportation and acknowledged that conclusions reached as to bus drivers do not even apply to truck drivers. The other two studies involve trucking companies, but neither study acknowledges that FMCSA is implementing its CSA (Compliance Safety Accountability) program or that FMCSA is dramatically increasing the use of EOBRs (electronic on-board recorders). Both of these initiatives, along with other safety programs at the federal and state levels, as well as programs implemented by trucking companies and their shipper customers, are certain to have significant positive impacts on highway and truck driver safety, NASSTRAC asserts.

"Safety is an extremely important issue for drivers, trucking companies and shippers, and enormous efforts and investments go into programs of continuous safety improvement," says John Cutler, NASSTRAC's legal counsel. "Ignoring these considerations makes an already weak case for reducing driving time even weaker. In addition, the new studies focus on small samples of drivers but appear to ignore the clear trend toward fewer crashes and fatalities shown by the Department of Transportation's own statistics as to the larger universe of truck drivers operating nationwide since 2004, when the current hours of service rules came into effect."

NASSTRAC's perspective is that when FMCSA first allowed an eleventh hour of driving time, some predicted dramatic increases in crashes and fatalities, using reasoning much like that in the two new FMCSA-sponsored truck driver studies. The assumption was that drivers would be most fatigued and most likely to be involved in crashes during the eleventh hour, yet this does not seem to be the case.

"When theories and facts conflict, the rational reaction is to suspect flaws in the theories," says Cutler. "Of course, the explanation might be as simple as that drivers reaching the end of their duty shifts are more careful than in earlier hours, offsetting risks of accidents. An analogy might be drawn to research indicating that traffic circles, despite the apparently greater risk of collisions, are actually safer due to heightened driver care. Or the new studies' data sets may be unrepresentative of the larger national population of drivers."

One of the new studies acknowledges and cites data from the American Transportation Research Institute showing significant declines in crash and fatality rates under the current rules, as well as data indicating that most crashes occur in the first eight driving hours, with declining crash rates thereafter. This study then proceeds to ignore these data, NASSTRAC points out, making no effort to show that ATRI's figures are incorrect. Another one of the new studies ignores ATRI's data, and both studies ignore DOT's own nationwide crash and fatality data, apparently reflecting an academic preference for samples, modeling and reliance on other similar academic studies. Cutler notes that it remains questionable why readily available national data produced by DOT and ATRI should be given no weight whatsoever in these studies.

The new studies, according to NASSTRAC, do nothing to address the primary flaw in FMCSA's proposed rule changes: the fact that the costs of FMCSA's proposed changes far outweigh any realistic benefits that might be achieved by significant reductions in truck driver duty hours. As NASSTRAC has previously contended, FMCSA must not analyze the costs of its proposals using tunnel vision that ignores trucking's role in the U.S. economy. Trucking companies transport some 70% or more, by weight and value, of goods moving between vendors, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, and also have a growing role in deliveries to consumers.

The safety benefit of FMCSA's proposals to reduce driving time by an hour, to mandate breaks (as opposed to trusting drivers to schedule their own breaks), and to modify the restart, are speculative at best, Cutler says. The additional costs of these changes for drivers, trucking companies and shippers are very real and substantial. Drivers are likely to make less money if their hours are cut, and are likely to face and contribute to increased congestion if the restart rules are changed. In addition, more drivers are likely to be stranded short of their destinations and homes.

Trucking companies will have more difficulty attracting and retaining quality drivers and will have more trouble dispatching loads in an efficient manner due to reduced flexibility in operating their networks. Shippers will have more difficulty scheduling their production and distribution operations, and shippers with just-in-time supply chains may need to increase inventories, inventory carrying costs, and other logistics operations in order to avoid shortages and downtime. All of these adverse impacts will be imposed at a time when the economy is struggling to recover, and the White House has called for a reduction in inefficient regulation. These adverse impacts are also unnecessary, compounding the arbitrariness and capriciousness of FMCSA's proposals. For these reasons, according to Cutler, NASSTRAC believes the current rules have done a good job of reducing crashes and fatalities, and do not need to be changed.

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