FMCSA report affirms current, less restrictive hours of service rules

After some two years, rules governing truckers’ use of a 34-hour restart have been settled by a report issued by the Department of Transportation.

The new study confirms that 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.

The DOT’s Office of Inspector General Thursday, March 2, sent to Congress a letter signing off on the department’s study. It said it agreed with the study’s conclusions and that the department followed Congress’ directives in completing the research.

The trucking industry’s leading business organization applauded the report, calling it “the end of a long struggle.”

Congress suspended the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. requirement and the once-weekly limit in December 2014, pending the issuance of the study. The report shows those provisions did nothing to enhance safety.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will likely need to issue a formal notice to  remove the rules permanently, but the regs have been suspended since a December 2014 notice. The report does not change the rules truckers’ currently operate under.

“The release of this report closes what has been a long, and unnecessary, chapter in our industry’s drive to improve highway safety,” said American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear. “We knew from the beginning that these Obama administration restrictions provided no benefit to safety, and in light of the DOT’s findings – corroborated by the DOT Inspector General – it is good for our industry and for the motoring public that they will be done away with permanently.”

The study found that truckers following the July 1, 2013, regulations requiring the early morning periods to be included in the restart operated no more safely than truckers not abiding by the rules.

More than 200 drivers were studied for the DOT’s report. They were divided into two groups: One followed the more restrictive 2013 rules and the others were free to use the restart as they chose.

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.”

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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.

One of the 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 required the study to show exceeding safety and health benefits for drivers’ operating under the 2013 rules.