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Consecutive Driving Hours


JULY 9, 2002

Consecutive Driving Hours for Truck and Bus Drivers.

According to studies by the DOT, the National Transportation Safety Board and other research organizations, one of the leading causes of truck crashes is truck driver fatigue. In 2000, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed amending the federal rule on truck and bus driver hours-of-service (HOS). In that proposal the agency was willing to trade off necessary improvements in the federal HOS regime against increasing driving time and shortcutting the amount of rest and recovery a commercial truck or bus driver needs after a tour of duty. Those proposed changes are unsafe for both commercial drivers and the public.

Advocates strongly supports several of the basic concepts and elements of the proposed HOS rule. FMCSA properly acknowledged the crucial role of adequate driver rests and recovery of peak safety performance and alertness in avoiding operator sleep deprivation and reduced vigilance. When commercial drivers are exhausted from excessive daily and weekly work hours and get inadequate rest, the risk of crashes that result in deaths and injuries substantially and predictably increases, a fact that the FMCSA acknowledged in the proposed rule. Large truck and bus crashes are especially lethal highway events because commercial vehicles are much more likely to involve passenger cars and other light vehicles in which the chances of severe injury or death to their occupants are dramatically increased. In fact, 98 percent of the people killed in two-vehicle crashes involving passenger vehicles and trucks are the occupants of the passenger vehicles.

Commendably, FMCSA based its proposal on the adoption of a circadian, that is, a 24-hour work/rest shift cycle which an enormous body of research over many years has unerringly shown is necessary for ensuring adequate opportunity to gain sufficient recovery from long work hours. This is in contrast to the seriously fatiguing and dangerous effects of the current regulation that permits drivers to drive and rest on an unnatural 18-hour cycle. The FMCSA for the most part also proposed a longer daily off-duty rest period than required under the current rule – which demands only a minimum of eight hours off-duty – and the agency insisted that this off-duty period be free from interruption by dispatchers and brokers. The agency also tried to provide for additional rest breaks during the day, although its effort is flawed in a number of ways, and it proposed that layover or “weekend” off-duty rest time shall take place over two successive nights. FMCSA also prohibited split rest time for solo drivers. Finally, the agency proposed to mandate on-board automated recordation (electronic on-board recorders or EOBRs) of driving duty time for two classes of commercial operators, an action Advocates and other major safety organizations have urged and supported for many years. These reforms are necessary, well-supported by research findings, and are essential parts of any revision of the current regulations.

The FMCSA’s proposal, however, also included numerous negative aspects that should not be part of a final rule. Increased driving hours poses a major safety problem. The agency proposed more consecutive driving hours (12) over the current HOS regulation (10), a significant increase of two hours. The agency fails to demonstrate how permitting longer consecutive driving hours is as safe as or safer than fewer consecutive driving hours. The agency’s own tabulation of relative risk levels, as related to the length of consecutive driving time, show that the initial dramatic leap in relative risk of fatal crashes occurs after the 10th hour of driving – the point where the relative risk of a crash effectively doubles. Yet the agency ignores this fact by proposing to extend maximum consecutive driving hours.

The FMCSA also failed to prove how providing a longer time for daily rest can somehow offset its own acknowledgment of increased risk exposure that results from longer consecutive driving time. In fact, the agency openly admitted in its regulatory analysis that it could not show any causal linkage between increased opportunities for rest and reduced crash risk when longer consecutive hours of driving time are allowed.

The proposed rule defines the work week as a 7-day rotation of combined duty/off-duty time, but the specifics of the proposal actually permit a constant 6.3 day rotation that can result in nearly 300 hours of driving/duty time in a 31-day month. And while increasing total hours, the proposed rule would allow all driving to be entirely at night despite well-known elevated relative risk calculations associated with operations conducted during the circadian trough of 12 midnight to 6 A.M. when humans are naturally at the point of being very sleepy and not alert, with slowed perception and reaction times.

The proposed minimum weekly layover off-duty time is simply inadequate at 32 hours and is directly contradicted by well-known research, including research done recently in Canada and by the FMCSA’s own contracted researchers. Not many in this hearing room would find acceptable a weekend that began at 9 P.M. Friday night and ended at 9 A.M. Sunday morning, when a driver could be asked to jump into the tractor again, yet this is what FMCSA proposed.

The cardinal failure of the rule to distinguish between driving and non-driving duty time – and to protect non-driving duty time from abuse– will encourage many carriers and drivers to engage in delivery, pick-up, waiting, loading/unloading, and other non-driving “down” time activities, during what is required to be off-duty rest time or break time. Electronic recorders are not able to show that this abuse took place.

Canada and Australia have the longest official commercial driving hours in regulation among developed nations. The rest of the industrialized world, however, is moving in the opposite direction. The European Union (EU) is set to advance highway safety and protect drivers by reducing the driving hours ceiling from 56 to 48 hours, with a general limit of nine (9) hours of driving each day, and off-duty time averaging 11 consecutive hours per day. To ensure adherence to these limits, the EU is also prepared to mandate digital tachographs that are highly tamper-resistant, an improvement over the present requirement for mechanical tachographs that were found to be susceptible to manipulation by drivers and carriers.

Advocates believes that FMCSA should limit consecutive driving hours to 10 or fewer hours at a maximum. The shift cycle of driving, doing other work, and off-duty rest time should be indexed to a 24-hour day, as proposed by the agency. Drivers should have 48 hours off-duty at the end of each weekly driving cycle for rest, recovery, and the ability to lead a normal life. It should be remembered that the agency is required in statute to minimize health dangers to commercial operators. Driving hours should be monitored by EOBRs and data acquired should be immediately accessible to safety inspectors and enforcement personnel on a real-time basis so that the pervasive practice of fraudulent paper logbooks is eliminated.

There are many other features of a new, progressive, and safer HOS regime that should be adopted by the FMCSA, but the building blocks listed above are those that should be used as the starting points by the agency so that the safety of all Americans on the road – including the truck and bus drivers themselves – is advanced as a necessary and long overdue achievement of public health policy.

This information came from a
US House online article.

*** Any law, statute, regulation or other precedent is subject to change at any time ***

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