Limitations on Truck Driving Hours Provided No Net Safety, Health Benefits: Report

A recent report raises questions about the effectiveness of controversial new truck driving rules, which limit the number of hours truckers can spend on the road to reduce fatigue and prevent truck accidents on U.S. roadways. 

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III sent a letter (PDF) to the U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees last week, indicating that limitations on truck driving hours appear to provide no net safety or health benefits. The letter was obtained by Bloomberg BNA, coming in response to a Transportation Department study known as “Restart”.

The “Hours-of-Service of Drivers” rule limits truckers to being on the road 70 hours per week. It also requires two rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. over two consecutive days. The rule requires that drivers who have reached 70 hours over an eight day period, or 60 hours over seven days, must take at least 34 hours off.

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In a study published in 2014, researchers with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Washington State University’s Sleep and Performance Research Center suggested that limiting truck driving hours could prevent 1,400 accidents and 19 deaths every year. Researchers found that drivers who had two consecutive nights of rest suffered fewer nighttime lapses than those who only had one.

Opponents of the so-called “Restart” rules have claim that they would create more daytime congestion, as truck drivers were more limited in the hours they could be on the road and, would negatively impact commerce.

Trucking industry lobbyists have suggested that the rules were not based on sound science, and did not anticipate the impact it would have on the transportation of goods. However, the rules were crafted following what officials said was extensive medical research. It took 15 years for the rules to come to fruition, and truck industry lobbyists lost a battle in the U.S. Court of Appeals to have the rules thrown out.

The rules were passed by the FMCSA in 2013, but were suspended by Congress shortly after, pending a review.

According to the letter, DOT investigators compared work schedules and determined driver fatigue for two groups of drivers, one group operating under the restricted hours driving regulations and another operating under older regulations. The letter indicates that the samples were large enough to produce statistically significant results.

“The Department provided its final report on the Restart Study to us on January 5, 2017, and we concur with the Department’s conclusion that the study did not explicitly identify a net benefit from the use of the two suspended provisions of the restart rule on driver operations, safety, fatigue, and health,” the letter explains. However, it does not give detailed findings on the report.


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