FMCSA 34 Hours Restart Study Called Into Question

February 3, 2011

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is using a two part study from Washington State University as the basis for revisions to the Hours of Service (HOS) rules. The study is behind the 34 hour restart proposals which also recommends two full nights of rest time. The findings are now being strongly questioned by the trucking industry, particularly in respect of night drivers.

Both parts of the study were conducted at the Sleep and Performance Research Center of Washington State University by Gregory Belenky and Hans Van Dongen. The study demonstrates that day drivers do benefit by an opportunity to catch up on their sleep and rest, and in particular, that drivers particularly benefitted from an additional nighttime rest period in the restart period.

The American Trucking Association opposes the FMCSA and WSU sleep study, and in particular the 34 hour restart provisions. David Osiecki, senior-VP at the ATA for policy and regulatory affairs, believes the sleep study should not be used as the basis for FMCSA policy-making decisions. The second part of the sleep study has yet to be peer reviewed (a process by which other scientists and researchers review and attempt to ratify the study results). FMCSA states that the concluding part of the study will shortly be peer reviewed, however they are still continuing to use it as the basis for their policy-making decisions.

The laboratory part of the study used only a very small sample of a dozen individuals. This is certainly not a representative sample size, and the researchers themselves acknowledge that the study should be replicated using actual drivers under operating conditions. In Phase I of the study, 27 people were used as test subjects, but none of them were drivers. In addition, the study has not dealt with the issue of the type of equipment being utilized - there is a world of difference in operating a new truck versus one which is 20 years old; the same applies to the type of rig being driven, though further differentiation of the blanket rules is unlikely to be any determinant for buyers looking for a truck for sale in future.

Hans Van Dongen maintains the study results are nevertheless valid, because he was able to replicate the study results within the lab and in actual human subjects. This contention is strongly rejected by the ATA. Even the FMCSA observes shortcomings with the research, including the small sample size of 12 drivers and the fact that the results are all purely from the lab and not from operational drivers. In addition, the improvements demonstrated by the test subjects were from a group of people who had a 58 hour restart period (as opposed to the 34 hour proposal).

Nevertheless, the FMCSA still maintains that the 34 hour restart period is a good idea because it will ensure drivers spend less downtime on the road. Against this however, is the complications created by the restart in terms of long hours and the resultant driver fatigue, and in addition, the issues with applicability of the study results to night drivers.

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