The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) finally released its field test of the 34-hour restart provision at the end of January 2014. You can find a complete copy of the 34-hour restart field study here. As discussed here, the field test found that the new 34-hour restart rule, which requires drivers to take two successive periods off between 1 AM and 5 AM during their once-a-week restart, is more effective at combating fatigue than the earlier rule. Anne Ferro, the FMCSA Administrator, used the findings to bolster her position that “we are not changing the rule. This is the first time in a decade that we’ve got a rule that passed legal challenge. There are today no changes afoot.” However, trucking industry groups are skeptical and critical of the field test findings.
The first issue with the study was that it only compared 106 drivers from three companies who had one nighttime period of rest rather than the two required in the rule. It measured fatigue levels three times a day using wrist monitors. The trucks were outfitted with lane tracking systems. FMCSA says the drivers operating under the old system demonstrated more frequent lapses of attention, more sleepiness, and more lane deviations. While this is put forth as the “largest study of its kind,” sampling only 106 drivers doesn’t exactly put all questions to rest.
Further, the study did not evaluate the use of a restart only once a week, which has been a particular point of frustration for drivers and trucking executives, who say their productivity has been cut by 4 to 8 percent. Fleets argue it actually diminishes safety by forcing more trucks and drivers on to the roads during highly congested morning hours
Trucking leaders and organizations like the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have expressed skepticism and disappointment in the lack of analysis on key areas in trucking in the study.
OOIDA said it was “skeptical” of the test results, saying the drivers used were unrepresentative “of those actually affected” by the rule changes. OOIDA released its owns study on the hours rule in November, which concludes the hours rule not only makes drivers more fatigued but causes them to lose income and productivity and be more stressed.
The ATA has also been critical of the study. Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice president and chief of national advocacy said that “We appreciate FMCSA releasing the results of its restart field study. However, in many respects this short report is lacking critical analyses on several important issues.”
Specifically, ATA feels that the study found “incrementally slower reaction times” among drivers with less rest and that FMCSA was cautious in suggesting how important these findings are. Secondly, the study does not look at the feature that limits it to once-a-week use.
Osciecki went on to say that “while the study includes some findings favorable to certain portions of the new restart rule, the incomplete nature of the analysis and the lack of justification for the once-weekly use restriction is consistent with the flawed analyses that led the agency to make these changes in the first place.”
ATA has been fighting the restart provision, first in court (where it lost) and now in Congress with bills that would suspend the restart provision pending an assessment from the GAO. Those bills are awaiting action.
Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., author of a House bill that would suspend the restart provision, panned the study and said it only underscores the need to suspend it. “Considering the study arrived four months late, I expected a robust report, but the study is worthless,” he said in a statement. Hanna goes on to say that the study looked at too small a sample and added that it does not address “perhaps the most serious issue that could change the entire outcome of the study – forcing truckers to work in the morning rush hour when roads are most congested and dangerous. “This half-baked study only underscores the need to legislatively delay the rule and have GAO conduct an independent analysis of the study so we can get a credible account of what this rule will truly mean for the safety of truckers, commuters and businesses.”
While Rep. Hanna’s remarks are harsh, they are mild to many of the online comments posted by drivers across the country.