Following more than two years of lingering uncertainty, the rules governing truckers’ use of a 34-hour restart are settled, following the issuance of a long-awaited report from the Department of Transportation. The study has not yet been made public, but a letter issued by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General confirms the report’s conclusions.
The letter reveals the DOT study concludes that truckers operating under 2013 hours of service rules showed no greater safety levels than those operating under less restrictive hours regulations.
A DOT spokesperson says the Department is in the “final stages of reviewing the study” before sending a final report to Congress, as required by a 2014-passed budget act.
Given the results of the study and to comply with orders from Congress, truckers’ 34-hour restarts will not require two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and will not be limited to once per week. Drivers have been operating under the less restrictive regs since December 2014, when Congress suspended the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. requirement and the once-weekly limit, pending the issuance of the DOT’s study.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will likely need to issue a formal notice to permanently remove the rules, but the regs have been suspended since a December 2014-issued notice.
The DOT’s OIG Thursday sent a letter to Congress signing off the DOT study, saying it agreed with the report’s conclusions and that the DOT followed Congress’ directives in completing the research.
The study found that truckers abiding by the July 1, 2013, regulations — those requiring the early morning periods to be included in the restart — operated no more safely than truckers not abiding by the rules, according to the OIG letter.
Nearly 250 drivers were studied for the DOT’s report, which was executed by FMCSA and Virginia Tech. The drivers were divided into two groups. One group followed the more restrictive 2013 rules and the others were free to use the restart as they wanted.
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.”
Researchers compared drivers’ schedules and analyzed events like crashes and near crashes, as well as driver alertness and health.
The more restrictive hours of service rules took effect in July 2013, prompting widespread criticism by both fleets and drivers for preventing truckers from returning to duty until 5 a.m. after a restart, even if the restart had spanned a full 34 hours.
Chief arguments against the regulations were that it pushed drivers into early morning rush hour traffic — which caused safety and operational issues — and that FMCSA issued the rule with little scientific evidence to back up the restrictions.
Congress cleared legislation in December 2014 to halt the regulations and require FMCSA to perform the 34-hour restart study. Congress set the bar high for the 2013 rules to go back into effect, requiring the study to show exceeding safety and health benefits for drivers’ operating under the 2013 rules.