Hours of Service Update

Former FMCSA researcher blasts studies backing HOS change
06/10/2011
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ARLINGTON, Va. – Another respected international researcher has criticized the way in which U.S. truck regulators' are attempting to justify changes to the current hours of service rule.

Dr. Ronald Knipling, who used to head the Federal Motor Carriers' Safety Association's research department, questioned the validity of recent studies added late to the HOS rulemaking docket by his former agency, saying they can't be relied on to support the agency's proposed changes.

Knipling, who in the past has also worked with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), says two recent studies specifically by VTTI and Penn State are flawed in how they suggest that longer hours at the end of a driving shift increases the likelihood of crashes.

Another critical review of the FMCSA's attempt to
change the HOS rule has prompted carriers
to call for the agency to abandon its agenda.

The studies, which were reportedly commissioned by the FMCSA and drew suspicion from critics for their odd timing, are part of the arguments FMCSA is making to possibly cut daily driving hours, increase rest breaks and, controversially, overhaul the 34-hour restart provision by requiring two extra six-hour, overnight downtime periods.

(The agency delayed its final proposal for several months in order to accommodate the latest reports).

In a statement, the American Trucking Associations said that Knipling’s recent work in reviewing the latest reports "only underscores how weak FMCSA’s case for change really is."

"For a third time since FMCSA began this ill-advised revision of the hours-of-service rule, an expert in the field of truck safety has called into question the science FMCSA is using to advance these unwarranted changes,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves, referring to other critical reviews of the FMCSA proposal, including one by a leading sleep expert who says the agency misapplied his research to justify the changes.

The reviews prepared for ATA by Knipling claim that both the Penn State and VTTI research is flawed in their methodology and conclusions.

According to ATA, he explains that distinguishing types of crash causes when analyzing the effect of driving hours on truck safety is critical, and neither study pays the appropriate attention to other factors beyond fatigue.

He added that the sample of drivers, trucks and crashes rendered the studies of little value.

It would be "erroneous and unwarranted" to accept the findings "without extensive re-analysis, internal validation, and external replication," he said.

That prompted ATA to once again call for the FMCSA to abandon "its ill-advised proposal and turn its focus to improving enforcement of the current, effective hours-of-service rule."

Knipling's own work on the issue finds that fatigue related to driving work and schedules prescribed by current daily driving time rules is not related to single trucking crashes (which make up the majority of fatigue related crashes), while fatigue related to lack of prior sleep and early morning driving can in fact be related.

Rather than an increased risk of crashes after the 11th hour of driving, as the FMCSA is now suggesting, the risk of all types of truck crashes increased during daytime driving, “consistent with increased exposure (to traffic)," says Knipling.

Meanwhile, the shipper group, the National Industrial Traffic League, also issued a statement that the two university studies are not persuasive.

According to the group, the Penn State study makes no attempt to verify that the crashes were caused by fatigue, although it suggests that's the case; while the VTTI report shows no appreciable increase in crash risk between the 10th and 11th driving hours.