Federal regulators and a group representing auto insurers are backing conflicting data on the safety implications of new potential hours-of-service (HOS) exemptions for short-haul drivers.
The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), which promotes motor vehicle crash safety and is backed by most major vehicle insurance companies, contends that the HOS changes proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in August could make the roads less safe.
“Driver fatigue is a major risk factor in large truck crashes,” IIHS senior statistician Eric Teoh said in a statement Sept. 9. “Creating more exceptions to the hours-of-service limits, which already allow drivers to log long hours, isn’t likely to improve safety and may well cause harm.”
IIHS is particularly concerned with the FMCSA’s proposal to change an exception for short-haul commercial drivers by lengthening the maximum on-duty period for drivers from 12 to 14 hours and extending the 100 air-mile distance limit within which the driver can operate to 150 air miles.
Under current regulations, short-haul drivers moving freight who qualify for the exception don’t have to prepare record of duty status documentation (known as RODS), use an electronic logging device or take a 30-minute break after eight hours of duty as long as they return to a work-reporting location that is within 100 miles and leave work within 12 consecutive hours after their starting times.
While drivers who are eligible for the exemption would still need to limit their actual driving time to 11 hours, “since they don’t need to record their hours, compliance is impossible to verify,” IIHS asserted.
IIHS cited a study previously shared with regulators of large trucks involved in crashes with injuries or deaths in which IIHS and University of North Carolina researchers found that drivers using a short-haul exception “had a crash risk nearly five times as high” as those not using the exception.
But FMCSA’s review of the study found that it was “based on a very small sample size” that was not nationally representative and prevented the researchers from properly estimating the results. “Further, the authors noted that other related factors unobserved in the study may have led to this result. For example, it is possible that older or more poorly maintained trucks are used in local operations,” FMCSA stated in its proposed rulemaking.
The agency said that in proposing the changes to the short-haul exception, it relied on its own data looking at concrete mixer-truck crashes that showed increasing the duty day from 12 to 14 hours “did not statistically increase the share of concrete mixers involved in crashes.”
Ozzie Flores, safety and compliance manager for Teletrac Navman, which provides fleet tracking services, told FreightWaves that if FMCSA’s short-haul exception changes are made permanent, “I think the only way to validate safety concerns is to look at the data, such as crash data and roadside inspections, to see if you start seeing a spike in violations.”
A former fleet supervisor, Flores pointed out that, as an example, data revealed a drop in HOS violations after the ELD mandate went into effect in April 2018. “So until you can quantify those safety concerns with hard data, I think it will be difficult to argue against” FMCSA’s proposed HOS changes, he said.
IIHS also took issue with the agency’s proposal to modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the current 14-hour maximum window during which driving is permitted if drivers encounter bad weather or heavy traffic.
“FMCSA says extending the driving window would encourage drivers to wait out the adverse conditions or drive slowly through them rather than attempting to drive quickly through them,” IIHS said. “However, it creates a longer work period and could therefore increase fatigue.”