To paraphrase Shakespeare, one might wonder if the changes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made to the hours of service rule in 2020 amount to much ado about not much.
A public report on the impact of those modifications indicates that, so far, the frequency and severity of HOS violations have not been reduced, nor has there been a significant effect on crash or fatality rates, since the liberalized hours-of-service rules kicked in on Sept. 29, 2020.
The mandatory “Effects of Hours-of-Service Regulations Report to Congress” that FMCSA has sent to Congress “analyzes the real-world effects of the new hours-of-service regulations” by comparing safety data from the years prior to the most recent HOS amendments to determine any correlations.
Congress has required that the agency annually submit its analysis of “safety data, including but not limited to, the number of crashes, crash type, number of fatalities categorized by occupant type, number of serious injuries, the rate of involvement that large-trucks have [in] accidents, and the time of day and on what type of roadway the accident occurred.”
What the Hours-of-Service Report Found
However, the devil in the details is that the results are inconclusive — but only due to some mitigating factors unrelated to the rule changes.
But first, let’s dive into the specifics of the correlation study. The analysis compared two time periods, bracketing the change to HOS regulations that became effective on Sept. 29, 2020. Studied were the “pre-change period” for inspection and crash data of 01/01/2018 to 09/30/2020 and a “post-change period” for inspection and crash data of 10/01/2020 to 09/30/2021.
During the pre- and post-change periods, FMCSA examined the following correlations:
- HOS inspection and violation data (all 49 CFR Part 395 HOS violations, including electronic logging device violations).
- Large truck and bus crash trends.
- Large truck and bus crash and fatality rates per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT).
- Relationships between HOS out-of-service (OOS) rates and large truck and bus crash and fatality rates.
The effect of the HOS changes on inspection and violations and crash and severity results varies more than might be expected. While HOS violations rose markedly, both crash and fatality rates rolled essentially flat.
Specifically, inspections of drivers resulting in one or more HOS violations increased from 7.6% pre-change to 8.5% post change. Driver inspections resulting in one or more OOS HOS violations rose from 2.6% to 3.2% The agency stated that both these comparison results are “statistically significant.”
On the other hand, FMCSA found that the monthly truck crash rate moved but slightly, moving from 5.58 to 5.70, and the monthly large truck fatality rate barely quivered, going from 0.164 to 0.167.
Why So Little Evidence of Cause and Effect?
In general, the 2020 revisions did not diminish HOS violation rates, according to FMCSA.
“The percentage of driver inspections with at least one HOS violation or at least one OOS HOS violation was significantly higher during the post-change period,” it said.
The data do not show a significant difference in crash or fatality rates, the agency said, “although it is important to note that initial trends may have been confounded” by outside pressures.
FMCSA listed these impacts as:
- The COVID-19 pandemic’s general effects on industry operations.
- FMCSA’s emergency declaration that provided HOS regulatory relief for motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.
- Implementation of the Electronic Logging Device mandate in December of 2017 and 2019.
In addition, there are “numerous confounding factors that influence crash rates, so this comparison does not specifically identify the effect of the HOS rule changes.”
Agency’s Alternative Approach
In the report’s conclusion, the agency offered an alternative approach to understanding the impact of the HOS changes” analyzing the safety outcomes of those who took advantage of the new provisions and waivers. However, there is very limited data to support an in-depth analysis of the safety outcomes of carriers that took advantage of the new HOS provisions in comparison to those that did not.
FMCSA stressed that “the pre- and post-rule change macro trend analysis is limited in its reach given the scale of the HOS rule changes and other confounding factors. Subsequent annual analysis will include more data points and additional data breakouts.”
The agency stated that it will work on “follow-on analyses drilling down into specific HOS violations or violation groups to attempt to correlate those with crash trends and will present any results in future annual reports.”