Are the new HOS rules effective at reducing truck driver fatigue?

Pro-trucking industry groups have criticized the findings of the FMCSA’s study on the effectiveness of the new hours of service regulations.

With the demands of the modern world, many people find that they cannot get the sleep that they need to function properly. Unfortunately, long-distance truck drivers are not immune to this phenomenon. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), aware of the danger that truck driver fatigue poses to other vehicles on the road, amended the hours of service (HOS) regulations last year to address the problem.

The amendments decreased the amount of time that truckers may stay on the job by limiting the workweek to 70 hours, a 12-hour decrease from the prior rules. In addition, one of the important changes the amendments made was to require truck drivers to rest for 34 hours over two consecutive night periods before they may start a new workweek. Under the prior HOS rules, truckers had to rest for 34 hours, but the rest period did not need to include two nighttime periods.

The purpose of the HOS amendments was to reduce the number of fatigue-related truck accidents. In enacting the amendments, the FMCSA was required to commission a study to examine the effects of the HOS changes and ensure that they were effective in reducing fatigue. Because of this requirement, the agency asked the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center to conduct the study.

Two groups of truck drivers were subjects of the study: one with rest times and work schedules under the old rules and one under the new rules. After 12 days, researchers questioned each group about their fatigue levels . It was found that more members of the group following the rest periods prescribed by the new HOS rules reported feeling better rested and alert than the group following the old rules. The FMCSA recently released the study's findings as proof that the new HOS rules are working to fight fatigue, and, by implication, reducing truck accidents.

Soon after the results of the study were released, the findings received criticism from trucking industry groups. As an example, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) issued its own findings that criticized the study. Among the criticisms, the ATRI blasted the study for being too narrow, as it only measured the performance of 106 drivers over a 12-day period. Additionally, ARTI said that the study confirms that drivers under the new rules would drive mainly during the day, which is a time that there is a greater risk of truck accidents. For these and other reasons, the ATRI's position is that the new rules are not necessary and should be repealed.

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Since the amended HOS rules have only been in force for less than a year, it is perhaps premature to entertain the ATRI's objections, as it is too early to determine whether the rules have resulted in a tangible decrease in truck accidents. However, whichever party is ultimately correct does not change the fact that truck driver fatigue is a major cause of accidents. As a result, any decrease in fatigue, no matter how it is done, would be a welcome thing on the roads. For this reason, perhaps it is best to give the new rules a chance.

If you or a loved one have been injured because of a collision with a truck, negligence on the part of the driver, trucking company or truck manufacturer may be to blame. An attorney can examine the causes of the accident for evidence of negligence and help you recover compensation for lost wages, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other expenses stemming from the incident.

Keywords: truck accidents, hours of service