No one argues that 18-wheeler accidents can be catastrophic. The sheer weight of commercial motor vehicles are enough to leave victims of accidents with severe, and even fatal injuries. In recent months, however, trucking companies and lawmakers have disagreed over the best way to reduce the frequency of these accidents.
Virginia Tech Transportation Institute hopes to put find an evidence-based solution to driver fatigue through a congressionally mandated study of truck driver hours of service regulations.
Trucker Fatigue Study
Virginia Tech’s Truck and Bus Safety Center’s study is the latest development in the long debate over how many hours truck drivers should spend driving and resting each day and each week. Richard Hanowski, director of the Truck and Bus Safety Center says “we have an opportunity to perform ground-breaking research that will have impact for decades to come.”
The study will eventually be used to determine whether the restart rules that were enacted in 2013 should be eliminated, reinstated, or replaced with new regulations altogether.
What were the 2013 Trucking Regulations?
Like most employees of any company, truckers take a “weekend” between each work week. Since truckers work in a field in which fatigue can endanger the employee or vehicles around them, the particulars of this “weekend” are heavily debated. A trucker’s weekend doesn’t necessarily fall on a Saturday or Sunday. Instead, 18-wheeler operators can be assigned to take their weekend or 34-hour “restart” period at any time, as long as it marks the beginning or end of a work week.
The Federal Motor Carrier Administration introduced the latest HOS restart regulations in 2013. These regulations required drivers to include two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods in any restart, and limited the use of the restart to once every seven days. Truckers found the 2013 rules difficult since many of them drive at night and get off duty in the early mornings. To include the time periods, some drivers had to spend 52 hours off-duty instead of the mandated 34 hours.
The American Trucking Association argued that the provisions actually caused more safety risks by putting truckers on the road during morning rush hour. Since there was no sound research available to back up the 2013 restart regulations, congress suspended the bill.
What the Study Measures
The five-month Virginia Tech study will include approximately 250 truck drivers from both large and small commercial trucking companies. Researchers will compare truck driver fatigue for two groups: one group that takes two night-time rest periods during the restart, and one group that takes less than two night-time rest periods.
The study will measure the work schedules for the driver groups, and asses the numbers of crashes, near-crashes, conflicts, and operator fatigue through electronic logging devices. The device will track a driver’s on-duty time as well as safety-critical events.
Upon completion, the report will be sent to the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) for review so that it may be reviewed and made available to congress. The study will help to determine whether the 2013 rules are better for safety and operator alertness. If so, they will go back into effect.
Drivers can apply to participate in the study by visiting the Virginia Tech website.