FMCSA puts final nail in the coffin for restart regs

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FMCSA has confirmed 34-hour restarts will not require two early morning periods and truckers can use them as often as they like to reset their weekly clocks.FMCSA has confirmed 34-hour restarts will not require two early morning periods and truckers can use them as often as they like to reset their weekly clocks.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration confirmed on its website that the 2013 regulations on the 34-hour restart will not go back into effect, given the results of a study released this week.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has notified Congress that the required study of the those regs revealed they provided no safety benefit. The notification verified a DOT Inspector General notice issued last week on the study’s conclusions.

The 34-hour restart regulations took effect July 1, 2013, and were suspended on Dec. 15, 2014, following widespread pushback from the industry. As part of a broader hours-of-service overhaul by the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the regulations required any 34-hour restart to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and allowed truckers to only take one restart per 168-hour period.

Congress suspended those provisions in December 2014 and required FMCSA to perform the study to determine whether they could go back into effect.

The study, however, concluded the regs did not enhance safety or reduce driver fatigue. FMCSA, in partnership with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute, studied 235 truck operators for five months. Half of the drivers operated under the July 2013-December 2014 regs. The other half did not, meaning their restarts did not need two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. Those drivers could also use the restart as often as they wanted.

Not only did the drivers operating under the more restrictive regulations show no greater levels of safety, in some cases they were less safe, according to FMCSA’s summary of the research provided to Congress this week.

For instance, drivers whose restarts included the two early morning periods recorded 0.37 safety critical events per 100 hours of driving, compared to 0.34 events for drivers operating otherwise. Safety critical events included hard braking, hard acceleration, swerves, contact with other objects and speeding. Likewise, drivers who were only allowed to use one restart in a 168-hour period recorded 0.37 safety critical events in 100 hours of driving, compared to 0.36 for the other driver subset.

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Drivers were monitored via video recorder systems that trigger during safety-critical events, which were then reviewed by researchers. The agency and VTTI also employed and analyzed electronic logging device data. Wrist-worn actigraphs were used to determine sleep timing and quality, and brief psychomotor vigilance tests helped measure alertness levels.

The subset of drivers whose restarts did not require the early mornings periods also recorded slightly longer sleep duration during their restarts — 8.86 hours, compared to 8.83 hours for those whose restarts included two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods.

Their stress scores were also lower during their duty periods and during their restart periods, and the psychomotor alertness tests revealed better response speeds than the other subset of drivers.

Their fatigue scores were slightly higher during their restart periods, but were the same during on-duty periods.

The report was reviewed and verified by the DOT’s Office of Inspector General and the Institutional Review Board.

The large majority of drivers studied were in long-haul operations –  187. The remainder were in regional and short-haul applications. Of the 235, 130 were dry van haulers, 59 refrigerated and 35 flatbed. Eleven were tank operators. The drivers represented 95 carriers, and they were asked to not change their schedules as part of the study. Cumulatively, the drivers took more than 3,000 restarts during the five-month period.

Nearly all of the drivers studied were men, 224. Their average age was 45.

Given the study’s results, all that remains of the 2013 hours of service rule is the 30-minute break required within the first eight hours on duty. FMCSA denied a request from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to rescind the break in the regulations last year.