It’s not that the controversial restart provisions in the July 2013 hours of service rule were bad, they just didn’t provide a significant improvement over the previous (and now proven effective) weekly reset—so they’re officially off the books, according to information posted Thursday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The good news: Agency research confirmed that the 34-hour restart provides drivers the opportunity for needed sleep time and sleep quality to recover from any acute or cumulative fatigue, and to reduce stress. The “most robust finding” from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study was evidence that drivers were in need of sleep when they undertook a restart, and when they slept during restart they slept much longer than when they were working. Specifically, drivers averaged approximately 6.5 hours of sleep per day during duty periods, and 8.6 hours of sleep during restart periods.
“This finding clearly shows the importance of off-duty time and that drivers need this extra time to recover from sleep debt that is accrued during the duty cycle,” FMCSA concludes in its Research Brief. “Similarly, perceived stress was higher during the duty cycle as compared to the restart period, again highlighting the importance of the restart period. Therefore, though differences in the manner by which the restart provisions were used may be negligible with respect to the outcome domains, drivers do benefit from a 34-hour restart period.”
Yet because of that “negligible” impact, FMCSA has restored “to full force and effect” the 34-hour restart rule as it stood prior to the revision. The requirement for two off-duty periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. the agency’s hours of service rules will not be enforced, nor will the once-per-week limit on use of the restart, the agency has posted.
The outcome of the study had become known before the results were made public when the DOT Office of the Inspector General posted a letter to Congress confirming the validity of the report and its conclusions, prompting praise from the trucking industry and sharp criticism from some highway safety groups, who contend the study was “set up for failure.”
Under the restart rule that went into effect on July 1, 2013, if drivers chose to use a provision allowing “restart” of the 60- or 70-hour duty-cycle limit, they were required to include at least two nighttime periods—defined as periods from 1 a.m. until 5 a.m.—in their restart breaks. Use of the 34-hour restart was limited to once every 168 hours. These two provisions were suspended in December, 2014, after the trucking industry persuaded lawmakers that the new restart requirements disrupted the work schedules—and rest routines—of nightshift truckers and put more trucks on the highway during morning rush-hour periods.
Directed by Congress to investigate the operational, safety, fatigue, and health impacts of these two restart provisions on drivers, FMCSA sponsored a naturalistic field study where participating drivers worked their normal schedules and performed their normal duties. As required by statute, and over a period lasting as long as 5 months, this study compared the outcomes among drivers using a restart period with 1, 2, or more than 2 nights. The study also analyzed the safety and fatigue effects on those drivers who had less than 168 hours between their restart periods and those drivers who had at least 168 hours between their restart periods.
Participating drivers from a diverse range of trucking operations, types, and locations worked their normal schedules and performed their normal duties, for a period lasting as long as 5 months, while being continuously monitored via:
- Electronic logging devices (ELDs) to track hours of service (HOS)
- Onboard monitoring systems (OBMSs) to detect safety-critical events (SCEs)
- Wrist actigraph devices to monitor sleep-wake timing; and
- Smartphone-based apps for self-ratings of fatigue, sleepiness, stress, caffeine intake, and performance of the Brief Psychomotor Vigilance Test (PVT-B) of alertness.
The 235 drivers who participated in the study provided a total of 26,964 days of data, including 3,287 restarts.
The researchers said the small number of significant effects from the type of restart used for each provision was “unexpected,” but they did note the 2-night restart may result in “subjectively better quality sleep and less fatigue” compared to a 1-night restart. But these “modest subjective differences” in the restart periods had no relationship to fatigue ratings and psychomotor vigilance performance during duty periods.