New Study Drives Old HOS Argument

by Jana Ritter - Published: 3/18/2013

Last year more than 3,900 people were killed in accidents involving trucks and if it's like most other years, driver fatigue will be blames as a big part of it. While the results of a recent Washington State University study shows relatively little difference in a driver's fatigue if they slept all day, all night or split their time asleep, the bottom line is that many drivers are not getting enough sleep at all.


In fact, nearly two-thirds of drivers routinely violated rest guidelines for financial reasons and when asked for other reasons for driving more than 10 hours a day; other common responses cited tight schedule and needing the money made by putting on more miles. Often incentives and disincentives are discussed as contributing factors in the type of loads and schedule demands that truckers are asked to carry and the majority of incentives are for making it on time and, of course, taking on additional loads. When trucking companies pay drivers by the miles, it puts the pressure of unforeseen delays due to traffic, weather and mechanical issues on the driver and inherently, their paychecks. Some trucking companies even schedule more miles than drivers can safely travel within the hours of service limits.

Drivers' hours has been an on-going argument between the government and the trucking industry for practically as long as transportation companies have in operation and the debate has only been driven harder, even since the current HOS regulations were implemented in 2004. With the government side raising concerns about highway safety and the industry advocates seeking to protect its productivity, the hot topic of HOS regulations seems to have risen to a fever pitch. Ever since the FMCSA published their newly proposed rule changes in 2011, they have been met with even more resistance than ever and especially over the new rules reducing the total time a driver can work in a week by 12 hours and modify the 34-hour restart provision time.

Although the new HOS regulations are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2013, in February 2012 the ATA (the most vocal resistance force), asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the FMCSA's proposed changes. Since oral arguments weren't heard until March 15th, the chances of a decision before the July 1 implementation are likely none.

While the recent Washington State findings exemplify studies to support the government's side, it is an example of what that the ATA argues is the FMCSA relying on flawed assumptions to justify the HOS change.  The ATA specifically referenced the FMCSA's views on the threat posed by drowsy drivers and their arguments in favor of amending the rule was that driver fatigue was contributing to highway fatalities. Pointing out that the fatalities involving trucks have decreased by 34 percent since 2004, the ATA has also brought attention to the other major factors involving accidents involving big rigs and cars, citing other studies finding that more often its the passenger vehicle drivers at fault.