FMCSA still seeks truckers for 34-hour restart study

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 4/28/2015

(Editor’s note: FMCSA updated its website on Tuesday to say that the driver recruitment phase is now complete. The agency reports that it has enough drivers signed up and it is no longer seeking participants).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says it still needs truck drivers and carriers to volunteer to participate in a congressionally mandated study of the hours-of-service restart provision.

Congress, in a 2015 appropriations bill, rolled back the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. provision in the 34-hour restart from the most recent rule change and directed FMCSA to study the effects of the restart on drivers.

FMCSA says the study, which officially begins May 1, will measure and compare fatigue and safety performance levels of drivers who take two nighttime rest periods that incorporate the hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during a 34-hour restart and drivers who take fewer than two nighttime rest periods incorporating the hours of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

The agency is compensating drivers for their time, but there are tradeoffs. Participating drivers and carriers must use electronic logging devices and submit to monitoring on a daily basis. They will also be monitored with forward-facing and driver-facing cameras that record driving events and driver alertness.

Participants must also submit to daily alertness tests, wear watches that record their sleep and awake time, record caffeine intake in a journal, report sleepiness, and complete a survey.

FMCSA says the study will compare five-month work schedules for the two driver samples.

Missing the mark?
In early April, U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., called out the U.S. Department of Transportation’s selection of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to conduct the 34-hour restart study. The lawmaker also aired other concerns about the rule and what he says are pre-conceived notions by FMCSA about the restart.

In a letter to the DOT, Hanna called it surprising that the agency selected VTTI, the same entity that conducted the highly criticized study of hours of service in 2011 that led to the restart rule change.

Hanna said the methodologies behind the 2011 study, and the do-over study, are flawed in that VTTI is recruiting drivers who routinely work 60-70 hours per week and who typically work at night.

“This is concerning because it indicates that the researchers do not understand how the 34-hour restart is being used in practice,” Hanna wrote. “Most drivers use the restart not to maximize weekly work hours, but rather as a record-keeping tool to make it easier to log hours and to ensure that operational flexibility comes at the start of their workweek. … More typical truck drivers must be included in the research.”

Hanna called for peer reviews and urged FMCSA to make sure the study includes drivers who are “truly representative of the industry.”

OOIDA issued a statement in appreciation for Hanna’s efforts, saying it appears the study is “totally missing the mark” on what it should be showing.

“Regulatory impact studies should truly investigate the issues at hand and be representative of our nation’s trucking industry,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said earlier this month.

Providing insight
OOIDA Life Member Donald Delage, Enfield, Conn., is a company driver who signed up to participate.

He says the rule change that took effect in July 2013 did not provide flexibility for drivers to operate when they are most alert and rest when they get tired, even though truckers urged flexibility during the lead-up to the change.

“I’m really hoping that the study will prove to the federal government that they just can’t go and make a law and put it in place without having anything to back it up,” Delage told Land Line recently.

“This trucking industry is not a cookie-cutter type of an industry; one size does not fit all. You really have to have a study … to find out whether or not the restart is worth it or not.”

Delage, a long-hauler who covers the Lower 48 states and goes into Canada occasionally, says even with the flawed logic of the rule change he feels compelled to participate in the latest study. He says the agency needs to consider input from a safe driver with 22 years of experience.

“I’m hoping it gives them more insight into what goes on out there,” he said.

How to participate
FMCSA is looking for a driver sample large enough to produce a statistically significant result. To volunteer as a participant, drivers should visit FMCSA has more information about the study at this link.  

The study came about after Congress passed a 2015 Senate appropriations bill that included an amendment by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. The Collins amendment suspended the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. provision of the restart and directed FMCSA to study the restart provision before making any more changes to hours of service.

OOIDA supported the Collins amendment, saying it restores some of the flexibility truckers asked for during the rulemaking process and at listening sessions related to hours of service.

In addition to being cautious about what the restart study may or may not show, OOIDA has been critical of other FMCSA research in recent years. The Association is not alone.

Land Line Magazine Managing Editor Jami Jones contributed to this report.

See related stories:
Lawmaker critical of FMCSA approach to restart study, VTTI
FMCSA to immediately suspend restrictions in restart provision

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