Researcher rejects hours studies

Updated Jun 15, 2011

Trucker Tim0200 OdThe American Trucking Associations on June 9 said an internationally recognized safety researcher has questioned the cache of studies submitted recently by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to support its hours-of-service proposal, saying the studies contain many problems and shouldn’t be relied on to support the agency’s proposed changes.

Ronald R. Knipling, former head of FMCSA’s research division and the first American to receive the Order of Merit from the International Road Transport Union for his work on truck safety, questioned the validity of the studies the agency inserted into the docket on May 6 after closing the comment period for its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. FMCSA reopened the comment period for 30 days for discussion related only to the new documents; the deadline to submit comments was June 9.

Knipling raised “fundamental criticisms” of a study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University, concluding that the sample of drivers, trucks and crashes, as well as minimal attention paid to other factors in crashes, rendered the study of little value. “It would be erroneous and unwarranted to accept Penn State’s principal findings and conclusions without extensive reanalysis, internal validation and external replication,” he wrote.

Similarly, Knipling said a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute was lacking and concluded that “more probing and self-challenging analyses must be performed before [the] study[’s] findings can be accepted as sound science.”

Regarding a study of Florida transit bus drivers, Knipling concluded that the “significant differences between Florida’s transit bus operator work rules and those for interstate truck drivers render schedule-related research findings for one largely inapplicable to the other.”

Knipling also submitted a summary of his own work on the subject. He found that fatigue related to lack of prior sleep, being awake for more than 16 hours and early-morning driving was associated with many single vehicle truck crashes, while fatigue “related only to driving and work schedules (e.g., as prescribed by daily hours-of-service rules) were not. This non association was confirmed by several different types of analyses.” In addition, Knipling noted the risk of all types of truck crashes increased during daytime driving “consistent with increased exposure.”

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Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer, said Knipling’s review of FMCSA’s studies underscores the weakness of the agency’s case for changing the hours-of-service rules.

“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,” Graves said. “We have said from the beginning that changes to the rule must be made based on sound science and hard evidence, not political motivations.”

FMCSA and safety advocacy groups had negotiated in court a July 26 deadline for the agency to issue a new final hours-of-service rule. The agency, however, said it would not be able to meet that deadline after reopening the comment period to allow for review and discussion of the new studies and its possible consideration of their findings in the development of the final rule. FMCSA and petitioners agreed to a new Oct. 28 deadline.