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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
Attorney • 435-649-2525

Trucking Industry Pushes Hours of Service Rule Myths

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This is a follow-up to my post from the other day which covered a recent settlement of an hours of service rule case that, with luck, is a step in the right direction. To recap the problem:

The Bush administration increased the number of daily and weekly hours truckers can drive from 10 to 11 consecutive hours per 14-hour shift and total weekly driving hours from 60 to 77 per driver every seven days (a more than 25 percent increase). The rule dramatically expanded driving and work hours by cutting the off-duty rest and recovery time at the end of the week from a full weekend of 50 or more hours off duty to as little as only 34 hours.

The Truck Safety Coalition, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Public Citizen, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters filed suit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) over the rule and because of a settlement reached on October 26th, the FMCSA will begin a new round of rule making that may result in a reduction of hours allowed by the current unsafe hours of service rule.

The trucking industry, however, continues to push myths about the Bush hours of service rule that simply must be debunked. Fortunately, the Truck Safety Administration has prepared an information sheet doing just that:

Facts Rebutting the Trucking Industry Myths about the Progress of Truck Safety and
the Bush Administration Hours of Service (HOS) Rule

Myth: Fatigue-Related Truck Crash Fatalities have decreased under the HOS rule.

Fact: This claim is false. Data from the official government fatality database, the Fatal
Analysis Reporting System (FARS), shows that while large truck crash fatalities decreased in 2006 from 2005, this followed increases in truck crash fatalities in the 3 years immediately prior to 2006. Truck crash fatalities rose in 2003, 2004, and 2005 over each previous year. Notably, the increases in fatalities in 2004 and 2005 occurred during the first 2 years the Bush Administration HOS rule was in effect.

Fact: Even the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) does not assert
that truck fatalities have declined as a result of the Bush Administration HOS rule.
FMCSA states only that the rule did not make things worse.

Fact: National motor vehicle fatality figures cannot be used to "prove" that any specific
motor vehicle safety regulation among the hundreds that have been issued over the years is the single reason for any annual change in traffic deaths.

************************************************************

Myth: Truck fatality figures have improved in recent years. The trucking industry asserts
that because fatalities in truck-involved crashes was lower in 2006 (5,027 fatalities)
than, for example, in 2000 (5,282 fatalities) that fatalities have decreased.

Fact: FARS data shows that truck fatalities rose in 2003, 2004 and again in 2005 from
each previous year. Truck deaths over the 10-year span of 1997 through 2006 averaged over 5,000 per year, and dipped slightly below that total only in 2002 (4,939). (Recent annual fatality totals of less than 5,000 deaths due to the recession are explained below.)

Fact: The relative risk of dying in a large truck crash has actually increased compared
to fatalities in passenger vehicle crashes. In 1995, the relative risk of a fatal truck crash per 100 million vehicle miles of travel (VMT) was less than 20 percent greater than the relative risk of a fatal passenger vehicle crash, but the relative risk of a fatal truck crash has risen sharply since 1995 so that now the fatality risk in fatal truck crashes is 55 percent greater than the fatality risk in passenger vehicle crashes.

Fact: The proportion of truck crash fatalities to all annual motor vehicle fatalities has
not changed. In 2008, one of every 9 traffic deaths were the result of large truck fatal crashes. That proportion of traffic deaths has not changed for many years and is virtually constant from 1997 through 2008.

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Myth: Recent decreases in national truck deaths in 2007 and 2008 (preliminary data)
can be attributed to the Bush Administration HOS rule.

Fact: Recent decreases in overall fatality statistics in 2007 and 2008 reflect reductions in
freight tonnage linked with the recessionary economy. The sudden and precipitous decline in truck fatalities in 2007 and 2008 is linked with substantial reductions in both truck freight tonnage and a sharp drop in commercial vehicle miles of travel from the latter part of 2007 through 2008 due to adverse economic conditions. This reduces overall truck crash exposure. Similar declines in passenger vehicle fatalities are the result of reduced travel and commensurately reduced crash risk exposure.

Fact: Historically, economic recessions have been accompanied by reductions
in traffic fatalities. Every U.S. recession has coincided with a decline in motor
vehicle fatalities. CNBC News reports that “fatalities fell more than 16 percent from
1973 to 1974 as the nation dealt with the oil crisis and inflation. Highway deaths
dropped nearly 11 percent from 1981 to 1982 as President Ronald Reagan battled the
recession.”

************************************************************

Myth: Three-quarters of truck crash fatalities are "caused" by the drivers of passenger
vehicles.

Fact: There is no study proving that passenger vehicle drivers "cause" three-quarters of
the fatalities in crashes involving passenger vehicles and large trucks. The false claim by the trucking industry is a “junk science.” It is predicated on a deliberate misreading of studies that relied on descriptive “driver factor codes” reported by police at the crash scene and tabulated in FARS. These codes are after-the-fact notations often based on speculative information, as acknowledged by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and are not the product of in-depth crash investigations to accurately determine contributing factors that led to a particular crash.

Fact: The authors of both studies have stated that the study findings cannot be used to
attribute “fault” or “causation” as the industry has asserted. The author of the 1998
study on which the industry claim is based has stated that his study had been misused by the trucking industry and explained that the study could not be interpreted to assign fault or determine crash causation for the truck-passenger vehicle collisions he evaluated. The authors of the 2002 study disclaimed any causal connection between reported driver actions and crash outcomes. The industry claims are an intentional mischaracterization of the findings in these research reports.

Fact: FMCSA studies and FMCSA officials have also repudiated this industry claim.
According t o FMCSA “driver factor codes” cannot be equated with fault.

Fact: A number of studies contradict the claim that passenger vehicle drivers are to
blame for most crashes involving both large trucks and passenger vehicles. These include
studies that: found that truck drivers were primarily responsible for the majority of highway interchange crashes;15 found that nonfatal lane change crashes on the Washington, D.C. Capital Beltway (I-495) were twice as likely to be the result of a tractor-trailer changing lanes rather than a light vehicle lane change; found that in all crashes between trucks and light vehicles, trucks were more likely to be the “contributor” to the crash than light vehicles by 48 percent to 39 percent, and trucks were more responsible than light vehicles in backing, rear-end, rightturn, left-turn, and sideswipe collisions.

To see the data underlying this fact sheet, look here.

In order to make sure that the roadways are safe for everyone, we must all know the facts and use them to try and make the world a safer place.