What to Make of FMCSA Hours-of-Service Study?

Last week, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released the results of its much-awaited study on how the 34-hour restart provision in the current hours-of-service (HOS) rule affects driver fatigue compared to the previous version of the rule. The study was conducted by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and Philadelphia-based Pulsar Informatics, Inc., and it included 106 participants, 1,260 days of data and nearly 415,000 miles of driving that were recorded by truck-based data acquisition systems. Here’s an excerpt from the press release:

Scientists measured sleep, reaction time, sleepiness and driving performance in the study. They found that drivers who began their work week with just one nighttime period of rest, as compared to the two nights in the updated 34-hour restart break:


  • 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.

I’m not surprised by the results, and looking at these findings in isolation, they suggest that drivers who are more attentive, less sleepy, and less prone to lane deviation are less likely to cause an accident — thus “making every traveler on our highways and roads safer.”

But are the safety gains negated by another consequence of the 34-hour restart rule: more trucks on the road, during peak driving hours, to make up for lost productivity?

As I highlighted back in November in Hours of Service: The “Obamacare” of the Trucking Industry?, Schneider National realized a 3.1 percent drop in productivity on solo shipments and a 4.3 percent decline on team shipments in the months after the new HOS rule went into effect. Werner Enterprises and other carriers have reported similar declines in productivity too.

In a press release issued last week, the American Trucking Association (ATA) expressed a similar concern:

The report failed to evaluate the safety effects or efficacy of the once-per-week restart restriction, commonly called the 168 hour rule. Similarly, the study did not address the real-world safety implications of putting more trucks on the road during daytime hours, a time when more passenger vehicles are also on the road.


“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,” said [Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice president and chief of national advocacy].

So, what to make of the FMCSA study results?

It provides some important data that had been missing in this long-running debate, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. We won’t know the net effect of the new HOS rule on road safety for at least a year, if not longer. What we do know is that the new HOS rule is impacting carrier productivity today — and when you also factor in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program and the ever-present challenge of hiring and retaining drivers — it’s clear that the road ahead won’t be easy for shippers and carriers. If you’re not taking action today to mitigate the risk of a capacity shortage and higher rates in the near future, you will certainly regret it later. (For related commentary, see What is the Future of Truckload Transportation?).

What do you think? Post a comment and share your perspective!