Studies clash on safety impact of hours rule

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A new study by an insurance trade group says the new hours-of-service rule has resulted in truckers driving more and being slightly more fatigued than under the old rule.

However, a report from the American Trucking Associations shows that the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study is “bogus, as usual,” said ATA spokesman Mike Russell.

While the drivers responding to the IIHS study said their sleep time had increased under the new rule, they reported slightly more instances than when the old rule was in effect of driving drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel. When drivers were asked about dozing at the wheel at least once in the past month, the reported percentage increased from 13 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2004.

“The new rule was supposed to improve safety, but our survey shows the opposite,” says Anne McCartt, IIHS vice president for research. “Truckers are using the restart provision to squeeze even more driving hours into the week.”

A work week restart provision of the current rule, requiring 34 hours off, increases allowable driving hours in a seven-day period from 60 to 77. The rule lengthens the mandatory rest period by two hours but lets drivers stay on the road an extra hour every day.

A quarter of drivers who were surveyed by IIHS said they drive more than the new daily limit of 11 hours. Eight of 10 drivers said they’re taking advantage of the restart provision that allows them to drive 25 percent more in a week.

The ATA study, based on government accident records and data from 70 carriers operating under the new rule, was presented March 10 to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as comment on the possible revision of the hours rule. ATA asks that the rule receive no major changes.

Among ATA’s findings:

  • While total DOT recordable accidents and preventable DOT recordable accidents remained relatively consistent, there were decreases between 2003 and 2004 in total injuries and injuries related to DOT recordable accidents.
  • The 34-hour recovery and restart help to avoid the shifting of daytime to nighttime schedules, which can affect the circadian rhythm and decrease alertness.
  • By increasing the daily off-duty requirement to 10 continuous hours, the new rules greatly reduced the possibility of chronic sleep deprivation and the development of a sleep debt during a driver’s workweek.
  • With minor modifications to accommodate better use of sleeper berths and the promotion of naps, the rule should continue to prove highly useful in assuring the overall safety of the nation’s highways.
  • Enforcement of work hours has long been a problem because written log books are easily falsified, said IIHS. Its survey shows about a third of drivers say they at least occasionally omit work hours from their logs.

    “Without electronic recorders the rule can’t be enforced effectively,” McCartt said.

    Russell said FMCSA compliance data shows that about 8 percent of drivers cheat on their logs.