A study released Jan. 30th by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that truck drivers beginning their work week with just one nighttime rest period under the old 34-hour restart of cumulative on-duty hours were less attentive, sleepier and more prone to lane drifting than drivers who began with two nighttime periods of rest, as required by the revised restart.

A provision in the latest highway authorization law, known as MAP-21. required FMCSA to conduct a field study on the efficacy of the restart provision of the Hours-of-Service (HOS) rule for truck drivers.

Under a December 2011 change to hours-of-service regulations that took effect on July 1 last year, the 34-hour restart of cumulative weekly hours must include at least two nighttime periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. The old restart did not include any requirements for time of day, so the restart in effect required only one nighttime rest period.

The study, which was conducted by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and  and Philadelphia-based Pulsar Informatics included 106 participants, 1,260 days of data and nearly 415,000 mi. of driving that were recorded electronically. It measured sleep, reaction time, sleepiness and driving performance and found that drivers starting operations with one nighttime rest period in their restart compared to those operating with two nighttime rest periods:

  • Exhibited more lapses of attention, especially at night;
  • Reported greater sleepiness, especially toward the end of their duty periods; and
  • Showed increased lane deviation in the morning, afternoon and at night.

“This new study confirms the science we used to make the hours-of-service rule more effective at preventing crashes that involve sleepy or drowsy truck drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “For the small percentage of truckers that average up to 70 hours of work a week, two nights of rest is better for their safety and the safety of everyone on the road.”

In addition to proclaiming the new 34-hour restart from a safety standpoint, FMCSA argues that the impact of the new restart operationally is not as great as the industry has stated, claiming that more than 85% of drivers have seen little to no change in their schedules as a result.

While the FMCSA-commissioned research backs the new restart uniformly, industry studies from the American Transportation Research Institute and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. Foundation found that not only did the restart have an adverse impact on productivity and financial health of carriers and drivers, but it also hurt safety due to increased pressure, stress and other factors.

FMCSA’s field study – or rather the lack of a “completed” study – on the 34-hour restart was the principal subject of a contentious Congressional hearing in November. Several lawmakers were especially displeased that FMCSA chose to implement the new restart on July 1, 2013, even though it had not yet completed the assessment mandated by Congress.

The MAP-21 provision, adopted in July 2012, required FMCSA to complete the field study by March 31, 2013, and report the results to Congress by Sept. 30. Lawmakers at the hearing faulted FMCSA for failing to complete the study on time as required but still choosing to implement the 34-hour restart on July 1.

Ferro’s argument at the hearing-– a point FMCSA repeated in a Jan. 30 press release-- was that Congress did not change the July 1 deadline, which had been set as part of a legal settlement with Public Citizen and other safety advocates. Legislators at the hearing criticized this stance, arguing that Congress clearly intended that the study be completed well in advance of the July 1 implementation date. Although the report is dated January 2014, the report’s summary states that the field study was completed by July.

But implementing the rule before the study’s completion was only one of the concerns. Several legislators were skeptical of any study commissioned by FMCSA since the agency arguably had a vested interest in reaffirming a decision it had already made. Legislation (H.R. 3413, S. 1891) pending in Congress would nullify the changes to the 34-hour restart until six months after the Government Accountability Office completes a report on the methodology of FMCSA’s field study. Neither the House nor the Senate bill has advanced in Congress, although the House bill has 60 co-sponsors.

"The study does not appear to us to be representative of those actually affected by the newer hours of service, so we are skeptical it can be applied to the larger population within the industry," Norita Taylor, spokesperson for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA)," told FleetOwner.

“We appreciate FMCSA releasing the results of its restart field study,” said Dave Osiecki, executive vice president & chief of national advocacy for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) said in an emailed statement. “However, in many respects this short report is lacking critical analyses on several important issues”

According to Osiecki, the the report did not evaluate the safety effects or efficacy of the once-a-week restart restriction, also knonw as the "168-hour rule" and it did not address the impact of  putting more trucks on the road during congesed daytime hours.

“The study acknowledges that the two or more night restart periods result in more trucks on the road during the day, but it does not address the corresponding safety or congestion impacts,” he argued.

“While the study includes some findings favorable to certain portions of the new restart rule," Osiecki added, "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."