FMCSA e-log study ‘flawed’ by big-fleet bias, faulty data, OOIDA says

A newly released study claiming “a clear safety benefit” to electronic logs lacks the relevant data to demonstrate that such devices would reduce truck crashes, according to a review by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The study, published May 12 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration study and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, determined that trucks equipped with electronic hours-of-service recorders had a significantly lower total crash rate (11.7 percent reduction) and a significantly lower preventable crash rate (5.1 percent reduction) than trucks not equipped with EHSRs.

The study, however, did note that the data set – derived from the previously generated compliance records of 11 participating carriers – was “skewed” toward larger, for-hire carriers (with 9 having more than 1,000 power units) and “may not represent the overall U.S. trucking population.” (See Figure 1, above.)

OOIDA counters that “in no way” do the 11 carriers represent small- or even medium-sized motor carriers, as 97 percent of all fleets are 20 trucks or less, and 90 percent of all fleets are six trucks or less.

But the problems with the analysis are more substantial than the admitted statistical bias, OOIDA contends: The research team not only utilized “inconsistent data” from the carriers, but also included data sets that may have contained errors.

Additionally, “the study’s conclusion is flawed because it included all other types of crashes except those that supposedly would be prevented with electronic logging devices,” says OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. (Figure 2)

The study’s stated premise for the safety benefits of EHSRs is that they would increase HOS compliance, which would in turn reduce driver fatigue and fatigue-related crashes.

However, OOIDA points out, the report’s researchers admit that there wasn’t enough data to find any safety benefits when comparing DOT-recordable or fatigue-related crashes. The report notes that small sample sizes limited the ability to determine a significant difference between trucks with EHSRs and trucks without EHSRs for fatigue-related crashes. (Figure 3)

Indeed, of nearly 83,000 crashes in the 2008-2012 data set, fewer than 12,000 were DOT-recordable, and 987 were logged as fatigue-related. (The OOIDA report calls the high number of crashes for the study’s sample “a scary concept,” and says that “if true, these carriers do not need ELDs, they need to be removed from the road all together.”)

Still, all but one of the participating carriers had low Unsafe Driving BASIC scores, though two did show high a Crash Indictor, according the 2011 CSA data presented in the study. (Figure 4)

“The possible changes that hold the most promise in improving highway safety are things like driver training, better working environments, support systems and safe parking,” says Spencer. “We’d like to see well-trained drivers put into trucks instead of unproven technology. It is the hallmark of a bureaucracy to embrace billion-dollar mandates in the name of safety while all but ignoring the absence of even basic driver training for new drivers entering the industry.”

OOIDA’s full review of the study is linked here.