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A New Study Shows How Hours of Service Affected Safety

The hours of service rule has been a hot topic for some time. The most recent news came in the form of a roll-back from the Department of Transportation, something truck drivers and industry insiders had been advocating for some time.

Now, with the rule rolled back, groups have stepped in to begin analyzing the data produced when the rule was in effect. In what may be a surprise to very few, a new report is showing that the 2013 rule actually increased crashes and made the roads less safe. Let’s take a look at the data.

The Unintended Consequences

According to the study, done by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the number of truck-involved crashes and related injuries and tow-aways in the time after the rules went into effect markedly rose.

The ATRI’s report shows that the increase in crashes was directly related to the shift in hours by truck drivers. Due to the changes in the 34-hour restart rule, operators were forced to drive in more traffic-heavy daytime hours rather than at night or early morning.

While the rule did, in fact, have the effect of reducing nighttime driving, as he Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) had intended, it had the unintended consequence of resulting in higher crashes. When compared with statistics prior to the rule’s enforcement, crash numbers were significantly lower.

The Study’s Details

ATRI analyzed truck GPS databases to pinpoint changes in truck travel. The information was collected from a pool of over 800 trucks and cross-references federal information dating back to before GPS records were being digitally housed.

There were several factors that ATRI used to parse out the relevant data, separated by date and time. They delineated between time of day and day of week, starting after July 1, 2013, when the change went into effect. Finally, they examined several years of pre-July federal truck crash data.

The results were stark. After many years of crash decreases, suddenly an uptick appeared. This latest analysis validates the changes in operations and corresponding crash risk that appears to be associated with the changed hours of service rule.

The major shift in truck traffic from weekends, nights, and early mornings, was most pronounced on Sunday nights, which are generally low-traffic, low-exposure periods. All told, the statistical increase were reported only on tow-away and injury crashes. No fatality events were reported.

The Reasons Why

ATRI even managed to input a control over overall economic improvement. After all, could the increase in crashes be related to the dramatic increase in freight traffic due to a recovering economy? To remove this variable, ATRI utilized the percentage change and tonnage growth percentages. By doing this over the same two-year period, they revealed that the changes were relatively constant.

The report also posited some deeper explanations as to why the data was correlating so well with the 34-hour restart rule. Among these were:

  • Truck drivers began ditching the more restrictive 34-hour restart rule in favor of a rolling cap.
  • Truck drivers expanded their use of weekend productivity, particularly on Friday and into early Saturday.
  • Truck drivers utilized earlier weekend dispatches to avoid disruptions early in the week.

Now that the rules have changed, ATRI will begin collecting data to determine whether or not the numbers drop. A significant decline would be a direct reflection of how the more restrictive hours of service rule has impacted trucking safety.

Although the rule has been rolled back in congress, like so many other congressional acts, it has a one year expiration date. With the current makeup of congress and an upcoming election, it’s unlikely the issue will be raised again, at least before the suspension of the rule is set to expire. How congress will act at that time is anyone’s guess.

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