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Truck Drivers Don't Need a Revised Hours-of-Service Rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is poised to enact a revised hours-of-service (HOS) rule that would greatly impact commercial motor vehicle operators. The Public Citizen/Teamsters-led charge to reduce the number of hours truck drivers can legally operate combines the misguided nanny-statist philosophy of the Public Citizen Naderites -- who claim to support to move due to claimed safety and health benefits -- with the naked rent-seeking of the Teamsters union, which wants the government to forcibly reduce labor productivity in an effort to increase its potential membership pool due to new hires that would be necessary to perform the same amount of work.

Earlier this year, CEI filed comments in an FMCSA proceeding opposing the proposed changes. And earlier this month, I explained in an interview why the FMCSA's proposed rule ought to be rejected on both economic and health/safety grounds:

Q: There has been talk that any meaningful change in the current HOS rule will be litigated almost immediately, effectively tying up the process for years. Should carriers and shippers feel secure that nothing will change any time soon, or should they be preparing now to make changes in their supply chains just in case?

A: This is always the trouble with shifting regulation: uncertainty. I will not try to make broad recommendations for an entire industry with a diverse composition of firms, but I would imagine that more risk-averse firms that currently find themselves on shakier financial footing should take very seriously the impact this rule will cause if it is promulgated and perhaps immediately begin investigating what adjustments to their supply chains will be needed.

Q: Have you or anyone at CEI come up with numbers to quantify the cost to the industry of the proposed changes?

A: We have not conducted an independent econometric analysis. However, using the FMCSA's own cost-benefit estimates, minus the extremely dubious "health benefits" contained in the proposed rule's regulatory impact analysis, the economic cost ranges from $30 million to $640 million annually, depending on the percentage of crashes that one assumes to be fatigue-caused. Of course, the burden would be disproportionately borne by small firms and owner-operators, and some have claimed the agency has grossly underestimated the costs. The discredited methodology of calculating supposed health benefits was used by the agency's analysts primarily for the purpose of forcing a non-negative net benefits finding. They did not want to admit that this would be a costly rule for the industry.

Earlier this year, the FMCSA's analysts attempted to mislead the public by inflating the benefits contained in the proposed rule's Regulatory Impact Analysis. A chief element of this deception was misinterpreting a study in the journal SLEEP, which allowed them to claim hundreds of millions of dollars in supposed annual "health benefits" to drivers, something CEI pointed out in our comments. One of the authors of the study soon released an extremely critical report [PDF] on the agency's abuse of his research.

The impact of the rule change on health and safety would likely be very small, but it would result in an harmful cascading effect through the logistics industry. Modifying truck carrier schedules to accommodate the new rules would mean production facilities and warehouses would need to alter theirs. This can be extremely expensive depending on the freight being moved and the geographic distribution of the supply network. And something that would disproportionately harm small firms and self-employed owner-operators.

According to the most recent crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, since the current rule was established in 2004, large truck fatality and injury vehicle involvement rates in terms of vehicle miles traveled have been halved [PDF, p. 2]. This is through 2009, meaning fatality and injury rates were halved in just six years! The current HOS rule, which the anti-truck lobby argues is too dangerous to maintain, has coincided with huge reductions in truck accident rates. While truckers may work long hours, they are professionals who know a great deal and care a great deal about highway safety (which is why the alcohol-caused crash rate among commercial motor vehicle drivers is a fraction of motorcycle and car crash rates). Truck carriers are constantly developing safer practices and looking for technological innovations that can help them achieve better safety records.

The FMCSA bureaucrats who believe they know better, and who are easily persuaded by interest group pressure, should examine these data and seriously question whether a new final HOS rule is really necessary.