The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is pursuing its plan to conduct a pilot study on the feasibility of revising the Hours of Service regulations.
The research will look into splitting the off-duty sleeper berths regulations for drivers into segments, instead of having 10 hours straight off-duty or using the 8-2 split.
The plan is geared towards a potential revision of the HOS regulations to give truck operators what they’ve long wanted — rest period flexibility.
Considering how the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate is bound to take effect in less than 45 days and that ELDs will play a substantial role in helping make drivers’ lives on the road better, the trucking industry is without a doubt moving in the right direction.
The approval from the White House
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a DOT agency, will submit the plan to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) for approval before implementing it.
The agency will tap 240 drivers as participants in the pilot program. Drivers will be studied for up to 90 days as stated in a Federal Register entry published in June.
The agency has advised participating drivers to visit sleeperberthstudy.com to fill out an application, a questionnaire, and provide written consent to be studied.
Background of the split sleeper berth program study
Based on 9 CFR 395.1(g)(1), truck drivers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) with sleeper berths and those using the sleeper berth provision to comply with HOS rules are supposed to take no less than eight consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.
Drivers also must take a separate two-hour off-duty or sleeper berth period before going back on duty.
During the listening sessions of the HOS rulemaking, there has been a lot of feedback from drivers asking for regulatory flexibility so they can sleep when they are tired or as a countermeasure to heavy traffic.
In response to the feedback, the FMCSA has since reviewed the literature and conducted studies on the matter. So far, most of the studies demonstrate that a well-timed split sleep has either no effect or a positive impact on “subsequent neurobehavioral performance.”
To ascertain whether the sleeper-berth period affects driver fatigue levels or safety performance, the FMCSA introduced the pilot program to allow temporary regulatory relief from 49 CFR 395.1(g)(1), also known as the sleeper berth provision.
The pilot program is only for a limited number of drivers with valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) and those who use sleeper berths regularly.
More sleeper berth options
The FMCSA said the research would ascertain the practicability of adding sleeper berth options to HOS regulations.
Currently, regulations permit drivers to take an eight-hour sleeper berth period to break up their 14-hour on-duty limit and their 11-hour drive-time limit, as an alternative to a straight 10-hour off-duty period. Drivers who follow that provision must take a two-hour off-duty or sleeper period after reaching their current day’s limits.
Those tasked to conduct the research will study whether splitting sleeper berth hours would impact operator fatigue levels or crash instances.
The FMCSA will conduct the study along with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and Washington State University (WSU).
During the study, participating drivers will split their 10-hour off-duty period into three segments: 5-5, 6-4 or 7-3. Drivers will follow their usual work and rest schedules the rest of the time.
The researchers will also observe the participating drivers “in their normal operations.”
However, the FMCSA said drivers would be free to split their sleeper berth time into two segments of “any combination totaling 10 hours.”
According to the FMCSA, “Drivers would be able to use split or consolidated sleep schedules as they choose but they still must meet the daily minimum rest requirements.”
The study, according to an Overdrive Magazine report, will compile data from various sources.
Kimberly Honn, WSU’s principal researcher at the Sleep and Performance Research Center, said that the participating drivers “would be given custom ELDs outfitted with alternative exemption-capable rule-sets as well as SmartDrive forward and driver-facing cameras to record critical events on the road,”OverdriveOnline.com said in a separate report.
The driver will also wear actigraph watches during waking and sleeping hours. The watches are capable of syncing with a supplied smartphone for recording sleep/wake patterns. Drivers would also be asked to use their smartphones two to four times a day for psychomotor vigilance task tests to measure response time/patterns to assess fatigue levels.
With the data, researchers will determine the positive or negative results of drivers using split sleeper berth options and make conclusions.
The FMCSA did not disclose the duration of the data collection phase and how long it would take to come up with conclusions from the compiled data.
The FMCSA said it is accepting public comments for 30 days on its announcement to send its research request to the OMB.
Comments made by truckers
At the time of writing this blog post, over 100 truckers had added their comments about the pilot program.
Some believe that the program should be implemented before the ELD mandate takes effect; others are against the idea. A good number of commenters also left positive feedback.
Here are some of the comments.
“I think a 5-5 or 6-4 split sleeper option would go a long way towards making HOS more manageable.” — Michael Schwalbe
“The split sleeper option should be approved because everyone doesn’t have the same sleep patterns. Let the individual decide how long to sleep, not the government. Also, the Hours of Service 14 hour limit rule needs to be removed. It only prevents me from taking a nap when I’m tired. The government needs to stop trying to control every minute of a truckers life, it has nothing to do with safety. You cannot legislate common sense. Period. Experience is what makes a safe driver, not rules.” —William Welch
“Good Idea, give us some options, [a] lot of people can’t sleep for 10 hours. Hope this goes through.” —Bruce Miller
“This is the best idea from the FMCSA, in a long time. Allowing for some flexibility in scheduling to account for unforeseen problems on the roadway or throughout a drivers day. It would give the driver some tools to meet customer needs, while still maintaining compliance. In addition, I believe it would also ease congestion in large cities, as many drivers would prefer to rest during rush hour periods, and a full 10 hour break would only put them in rush hour the following day. I think this should be implemented, before the ELD mandate is enforced. Thank You for your time.” — Michael Custer
To view the rest of the comments made on the pilot study, visit regulations.gov.
What happens when the sleeper berth proposal is approved
If all goes well, the split sleeper berth proposal will be approved, and truckers would have more flexibility in managing their daily hours of service.
However, that still has some way to go.
For now, fleets and owner-operators need to focus more on ELD implementation, as the compliance deadline is less than 45 days from now. After December 18, 2017, those without electronic logging devices would be cited and fined.
If you’re looking for an ELD provider who can help you with your ELD transition process, request a demo or call us now at 844-325-9230.