HOS Rules: The Price of Safety or Waste of Money?

Today, nearly a year after the new HOS rules took effect in July 2013, the guessing game is largely over as actual data reflecting the results of the tightened restrictions is available to review. So, who was right and who was wrong? Did safety levels improve noticeably? Or did the new rules do nothing more than strain already tight supply of trucking capacity, leading to higher transportation costs (which by all accounts would be passed along to the consumer)?

Since first proposed in 2011, the latest revisions to Hours of Service (HOS) rules enacted by the FMCSA have been a target for scorn by the trucking industry which questioned the extent to which the new rules would actually deliver the advertised safety improvements across American roadways. One thing those in favor and those opposed could agree upon was that the new HOS rules were bound to increase shipping costs, reducing the number of trucks on the road at any given moment. Industry groups warned that the driver shortage which existed before the new rules would only be aggravated by restrictions imposed by increased drive-time restrictions. Proponents of the new rules promised the costs would be worth the significantly decreased levels of trucking accidents tied to driver fatigue.

As noted in an article in USA Today, the effects on productivity and freight costs predicted by the trucking industry have indeed come to pass. According to the USA Today piece, “David Osiecki, head of legislative affairs for the American Trucking Association… estimates the rules have cut industry productivity by 3% to 5%. Companies, in turn, are raising rates.” Further, “Contract freight rates have risen 3% to 4% this year, up from a 1% to 2% increase in 2013, estimates analyst Benjamin Hartford of research firm Robert W. Baird & Co.” The reduction in productivity, further constriction of capacity and spike in costly spot market utilization will all be felt in higher prices for consumers.

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The American Trucking Association estimates HOS rules have cut industry productivity 3% to 5%

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For their part, the FMCSA has released the findings of its field study on the matter. Researchers collected data for 106 CMV (commercial) drivers, over a total of 30,241 hours, yielding 1,814,460 one-minute data points used for analysis. During the study, a total of 3,169 assessments of reaction time performance and subjective sleepiness were made, and multiple driving measures were recorded across a total of 8,049 hours and 414,937 miles of driving. The final conclusion drawn by the FMCSA field study states, “The results of this naturalistic field study indicate that having at least two nighttime periods from 1am until 5am in the restart break helps to mitigate fatigue as measured both objectively and subjectively.” Yet, no hard numbers were provided regarding the overall volume of traffic accidents involving commercial trucking.

So while it does seem that both sides of the argument have mostly proven what they set out to prove, the question remaining to be asked at this point is, “Will the American public perceived these results as a premium they pay for safer roadways or an onerous backdoor tax on goods”?

What do you think?

 

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