Hours-of-Service Study Flawed, Says Expert

A national expert on United States transportation data says it “would be a serious mistake” to use the study on which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) relied heavily to justify its stalled hours-of-service reform proposal. The FMCSA plan, put on hold by Congress, would have set new limits on the amount of time professional truck drivers may spend behind the wheel.

The expert, Thomas N Hubbard of the University of Chicago, found the study's data “unrepresentative” of the trucking industry and conclusions “not grounded in good evidence.” Unfortunately, say top trucking industry officials, the misinformation has already been used by FMCSA as the basis for some of the more extreme measures included in its proposal.

Hubbard is an expert in understanding and using data from the federal government's Bureau of the Census' Vehicle Inventory and Use Survey (VIUS), a survey conducted every five years to provide information on the physical and operational characteristics of the US truck fleet. At the request of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), he reviewed the methodology and results of the 1997 University of Michigan Trucking Industry Program Survey (UMTIP), which was used by Michael Belzer, project director of the hours-of-service impact assessment done under contract for FMCSA. The original UMTIP study became a critical part of FMCSA's justification of its hours-of-service proposal.

The Hubbard review disputes further claims made elsewhere by Belzer that increasingly competitive labor and output markets — since deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 — have led to decreases in highway safety. “If anything,” says Hubbard, “fatal accident involvement rates are falling faster for trucks than cars. This is evidence against the proposition that truck drivers are increasingly driving less cautiously than car drivers.”

After ATA pointed out the bad science and other deficiencies in the original hours-of-service plan, the Congress told FMCSA to go back to the drawing board, banning implementation of any new hours-of-service plan until October 2001.

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