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ATRI study shows truck crashes increase with 34-hour restart

Sept. 9, 2015
THE Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) 34-hour restart provision—which was suspended last December—was putting more trucks on the road during the daytime and causing more crashes, according to a study done by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

THE Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) 34-hour restart provision—which was suspended last December—was putting more trucks on the road during the daytime and causing more crashes, according to a study done by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

Rebecca M Brewster, the ATRI’s president and chief operating officer, said the organization’s fourth hours of service (HOS) survey looked at a year’s worth of crash data before and after the rule went into effect July 1, 2013. Brewster discussed the study during the National Tank Truck Carriers Tank Truck Safety & Security Council Annual Meeting June 9-11 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

FMCSA had said that when drivers get two overnight periods of rest, they are more likely to drive during the day.

ATRI’s survey study, featuring GPS data from over 6000 trucks, showed that Sunday night into Monday morning, there were big drops, and then as the week went on, there was more and more activity.

Winners of the 2014 NTTC Tank Truck Safety Contest were recognized during the NTTC Safety

“Here’s the problem with that: When you put trucks on the road during the day, using the DOT’s own data, the crash risk for truck drivers doubles,” Brewster said. “Why? Because their exposure goes way up. So the rule has effectively moved trucks to daytime operations and crash data says that will be a much riskier time. When we looked at the crash data, crashes went up across all days of week, particularly Mondays, Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and they’re the types of crashes you’d expect from more trucks on the road in congested periods. They’re not fatal, severe-consequence crashes. They’re injury crashes and tow-aways.”

At an American Trucking Associations meeting a few months ago, FMCSA chief safety officer Jack Van Steenburg said FMCSA will do the same crash analysis in 18 months, but Brewster told him she would expect the findings to be no different from this because ATRI used FMCSA’s data to do this analysis.

HOS was the #1 issue for drivers in the most recent ATRI survey, and it has been #1 on the overall list for two straight years.

ATRI’s survey of drivers and carriers after the 2013 rule went into effect showed that 80% of motor carriers said they had lost productivity and a high percentage of drivers indicated it was having a negative impact on their quality of life and causing increased fatigue.

“That was interesting, because HOS rules were supposed to give a greater opportunity for rest,” Brewster said. “Many drivers pointed to the 30-minute rest-break requirement and the fact there’s not enough available, safe, legal parking for them to get that 30-minute rest break. So they were spending additional duty time driving around looking for safe parking, finally getting a spot, starting the 30-minute clock and getting back on the road. So that 30-minute rest-break requirement was really taking an hour or an hour and 15 minutes out of their day, extending their day and creating additional fatigue.”

ATRI did a peer review of FMCSA’s January 2014 field-study report—which looked at 106 drivers across two duty cycles (one-third local, one-third regional and the others long haul)—and identified some technical issues, research design flaws, and data conflicts.

“The FMCSA’s findings said the field study demonstrates that the HOS rules create safer, better-rested, more-alert drivers,” Brewster said. “But it was a small sample size. And now picture in your mind a lane of interstate traffic. Now picture 1mm of that roadway. That’s the difference in lane tracking between the two groups of drivers. One group that just got one overnight period of rest like the rules used to be, and one group that got two. The two-night group stayed in the lane 1mm more on average than the guys who operated under the old HOS. The rested group got six minutes difference in sleep on average than the tired group.

“Everybody had to rate sleepiness from 1 to 9, with 9 being the sleepiest. On average, the highest anybody in both groups scored was a 4. The only time that drivers in that study recorded a 5 was between the hours of midnight and 5 am on a restart break. Do you know what they were supposed to be doing between midnight and 5 am on a restart break? Sleeping. But they were scoring themselves a 5.”

That study was “not as robust as it needed to be,” Brewster said, so FMCSA was awarded a second study with a new sample size of 225.

One thing’s for certain: HOS remains a hot-button issue.

The 2014 top industry issues, according to the ATRI survey: HOS, driver shortage, CSA, driver retention, ELD mandate, truck parking, transportation infrastructure/ congestion/funding, driver health and wellness, economy, and driver distraction.

For commercial drivers: HOS, truck parking, ELD mandate, CSA, driver retention, driver health/wellness, fuel supply/fuel prices, driver distraction, driver shortage, and transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding.

Brewster said that “as we start to see stability in HOS, we may see truck parking go up even higher on the list—possibly even to #1. It’s a really big issue for drivers.”

Regarding the driver shortage, she said: “This is the first time we’ve seen drivers identify this as an issue. For years, we’ve heard them say it’s driver pay and quality of life. Now they see there are not enough people. That’s an indicator of just how bad it is. And it is bad. And it’s going to get worse unless we do something about it.”

For motor carrier executives: driver shortage, HOS, CSA, driver retention, ELD mandate, transportation infrastructure/congestion/funding, economy, driver health/wellness, tort reform, and driver distraction.

Truck-driver demographics don’t look good. Based on ATRI’s white paper last December, the highest percentage of drivers are in the 45-50 age bracket (29.3%), 55-64 (20.1%), and 65-and-over (6.1%).

“Even more alarming is that the smallest percentage is in the 20-24 range (4.9%), so we’re facing a fairly steep cliff in terms of our workforce, with fewer young people coming into it,” Brewster said. “We’ve had this group of people who have been in the industry and aged with us, but we’re not backfilling, because eventually those folks are going to retire, and we don’t have anybody behind them.”

She said “a college degree doesn’t preclude you from getting behind a truck, but truck driving isn’t their first thought after graduating.”

What exposure do they have in high school? Only 28.8% of high schools have any kind of transportation program.

“This creates some issues for us,” she said. “Certainly we need to make sure as an industry that we maintain the employees we do have in that group that has aged and grown up with us and create an environment where they can continue to work and be productive until they choose to retire.

“And how can we engage young people? Certain types of marketing? Restructuring the way we operate as an industry so it’s more conducive to attracting Millennials? What do we do about the employment gap between graduating high school and getting a CDL? A graduated CDL that would allow a person to, through a stair-stepped process, work their way toward a full CDL?”

On the freight bottleneck issue, ATRI released an analysis last December that monitored 250 truck freight-significant locations and recommended avoiding/scheduling around truck freight congestion chokepoints.

The most congested area in 2014 was Fort Lee, New Jersey, at the intersection of I-95 and SR 4. The previous #1 congested area, Chicago, at I-290 and I-90/I-94, moved down to #2.

The study calculated the total trucking industry cost of congestion on interstates as $9.2 billion in 2013, including 141 million lost hours of productivity—which translates to over 51,000 drivers sitting idle for a working year.

California and Texas each had over $1 billion in congestion costs, while Maine had the lowest cost ($5.1 million). The study concluded that 89% of the cost was concentrated on 12% of interstate miles.  ♦