Feds tout maligned trucker fatigue study

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The Transportation Department is pointing to new research as fresh validation of contentious new regulations on the amount of time big rig drivers can spend behind the wheel.

The federal study, however, is drawing harsh criticism from a Republican lawmaker, who derided the findings as “worthless” and “half baked,” and called for the new hours-of-service” rules to be suspended.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations that took effect in July reduced from 82 to 70 the number of hours that truck drivers can stay on the road every week. They also require drivers to take regular 34-hour rest periods that include pre-dawn hours of two straight days.

The agency, an arm of the Transportation Department, estimates the rules will prevent as many as 1,400 hundred crashes a year, though they were subject to legal challenges from industry groups who say they were unnecessary and costly.

The FMCSA-commissioned study, conducted by the Washington State University Sleep and Performance Research Center and Philadelphia-based Pulsar Informatics Inc., measured sleep, reaction time, sleepiness and driving performance.

Researchers concluded that drivers who began their work week with just one nighttime period of rest exhibited more lapses of attention that those required to take two consecutive nights off under the new regulations.

"This new study confirms the science we used to make the hours-of-service rule more effective at preventing crashes that involve sleepy or drowsy truck drivers," said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

The study included 106 participants, 1,260 days of data and roughly 415,000 miles of logged driving.

Rep. Richard Hanna, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was unimpressed. The New York Republican noted that the study was due out last fall.

“Considering the study arrived four months late, I expected a robust report, but the study is worthless,“ Hanna said in a written statement.

He criticized the sample size used by researchers, saying the FMCSA “is telling millions of truckers when they are tired” based on the experiences of just over 100 drivers.

Further, he charged, the study failed to take into consideration the safety risks of forcing trucks onto roadways during morning rush hours, during peak congestion.

Deriding the study as “half-baked,” Hanna called for legislation that would suspend the regulations until the Government Accountability Office conducts its own study of their merits.