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No clear 'net benefit' to overnight restart, FMCSA concedes

No clear 'net benefit' to overnight restart, FMCSA concedes

Inspector General signs off on review of 2013 hours of service changes

The Congressionally mandated review of 2013 changes to truck driver hours of service requirements has turned up no evidence that the restart provisions are, overall, beneficial. The tip comes from none other than the Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Trucking interests welcomed the study's conclusion, while highway safety groups called it "junk science."

In a letter to new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and key committee members in Congress, OIG signs off on the yet-to-be-released final report by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, saying the agency followed the review requirements imposed when lawmakers suspended provisions that included requiring consecutive nighttime off-duty periods (1 a.m. to 5 a.m.) to reset a driver’s weekly work limits. Those limits were not to be enforced pending a study that demonstrated the plan was effective in reducing fatigue-related accidents. Many in the trucking industry had lobbied successfully that the 2013 requirement disrupted the work schedules—and rest routines—of nightshift truckers and put more trucks on the highway during morning rush-hour periods.

“We concur with the Department’s conclusion that 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,” the OIG letter states.

Language in the current DOT budget extension calls for the suspension to be made permanent with such a determination.

A DOT spokesman told Fleet Owner the agency is "currently in the final stages of review" before sending the full report, delivered to OIG on Jan. 5, to Congress.

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said the trucking industry was pleased with the validation of its position that the restart did not perform as advertised.

“We knew from the beginning that these Obama administration restrictions provided no benefit to safety,” Spear said, “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.”

ATA has fought against these restrictions—which limited drivers’ flexibility in the use of the restart—since they were first proposed in 2013, the association notes.

“Congress repeatedly told the FMCSA that rules of this nature must show a benefit to safety and this report clearly shows there was no benefit,” Spear said. “This marks the end of a long struggle, but hopefully the beginning of a new era of inclusive and data-based regulation.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association likewise agreed with the finding that there is no safety benefit in the currently suspended provisions. 

“It’s not only common sense, it’s trucker sense,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “We have always championed the need for flexibility in the hours-of-service regulations so that drivers can drive when rested and avoid times of heavy congestion or bad weather conditions.”

Highway safety groups, however, blasted the study results, with the Truck Safety Coalition saying OIG simply “rubber stamped” a study that was “junk science” and “set up for failure.”

“This study does nothing to shed light on the serious problem of truck driver fatigue,” said Jackie Gillan, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  “But, it does shed light on the power of special trucking interests to run to their friends in Congress and repeal important health and safety rules.  Sadly, the U.S. DOT IG has become yet another political pawn in this tortured process.”

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