FMCSA Using Flawed HOS-Reform Study

May 31, 2001
A leading national expert on U.S. transportation data says it "would be a serious mistake" to utilize the study on which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety

A leading national expert on U.S. transportation data says it "would be a serious mistake" to utilize the study on which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) relied heavily to justify its stalled hours-of-service (HOS) reform proposal. The FMCSA plan, put on hold by Congress, would have set new limits on the amount of time professional truck drivers may spend behind the wheel.

The expert, Thomas N Hubbard of the University of Chicago, found the study's data "unrepresentative" of the trucking industry and conclusions "not grounded in good evidence." Unfortunately, say top trucking industry officials, the misinformation has already been used by FMCSA as the basis for some of the more extreme measures included in its much-disputed proposal.

Hubbard is one of the foremost experts in understanding and using data from the federal government's Bureau of the Census' Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), a survey conducted every five years to provide information on the physical and operational characteristics of the US truck fleet. At the request of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), he reviewed the methodology and results of the 1997 University of Michigan Trucking Industry Program Survey (UMTIP), which was utilized by Michael Belzer, the Project Director of the Hours-of-Service Impact Assessment done under contract for FMCSA. The original UMTIP study became a critical part of FMCSA's justification of its HOS proposal.

"ATA and its member motor carriers have insisted since day one that any new Hours-of-Service rule must be based on sound science and the operational needs of the industry," said Walter B. McCormick Jr, President and CEO. "This study mischaracterizes the trucking industry, and to base a new rule on flawed information unnecessarily and unfairly threatens the livelihood of the nearly ten million men and women working in the trucking industry. It would prevent us from continuing to do our job of delivering the US economy safely and efficiently."

The Hubbard review disputes further claims made elsewhere by Belzer that increasingly competitive labor and output markets--since deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980--have led to decreases in highway safety. "If anything," said Hubbard, "fatal accident involvement rates are falling faster for trucks than cars. This is evidence against the proposition that truck drivers are increasingly driving less cautiously than car drivers."

After ATA pointed out the bad science and other deficiencies in the original HOS plan, the Congress told FMCSA to go back to the drawing board, banning implementation of any new HOS plan until October 2001.

"Had we been forced to work under the original DOT scheme," said ATA's McCormick, "the trucking industry and the nation's delivery system would have been in chaos. We would have faced a significant loss in productivity. Just to keep up with the needs of today's economy, we would have been forced to put at least 100,000 more trucks--with less-experienced drivers--on the nation's highways during daylight hours.

"With real world trucking industry information to work with, we and DOT can work together to produce a rule that truly will improve highway safety for all."