The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will submit to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a plan to conduct a study on revising Hours of Service (HOS) regulations.
The OMB needs to approve the plan before the FMCSA implements it.
The study will focus on splitting the off-duty sleeper berth periods for commercial drivers into segments. Currently, drivers have two options: use a period of 10 consecutive off-duty hours or split it into two periods of 8 and 2 hours.
The pilot research will involve 240 drivers as participants and will be conducted by the FMCSA with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and Washington State University (WSU).
The study will look into revising the HOS regulations to give commercial drivers more flexibility in determining how they want to rest.
Drivers interested in participating in the study need to visit sleeperberthstudy.com to fill out an application form, a questionnaire, and present written consent to be studied. As stated in a Federal Register entry in June, the participating drivers will be observed for 90 days.
The FMCSA said the study would determine the feasibility of adding sleeper berth options to the current Hours-of-Service regulations.
Current regulations allow drivers to take an eight-hour sleeper berth period to break their 14-hour on-duty limit as well as their 11-hour drive-time limit. The eight-hour sleeper berth period is an alternative to the straight 10-hour off-duty period. Drivers who follow the HOS provision must also take a two-hour off-duty or a sleeper period after reaching their day’s limit.
Researchers will look into whether or not splitting sleeper berth periods would adversely affect operator fatigue levels or crash incidents. This information is crucial since studies and official statistics have shown that driver fatigue is one of the leading causes of road accidents.
The participating drivers will split their 10-hour off-duty period into three segments — 5-5, 6-4, or 7-3. Apart from this one change, drivers will follow their normal work and rest schedules.
Researchers will also study the participating drivers “in their normal operations.”
The FMCSA said drivers are free to split their sleeper berth time into two segments, as long as the combination totals 10 hours.
The agency also said, “Drivers would be able to use split or consolidated sleep schedules as they choose but they still must meet the daily minimum rest requirements.”
According to Kimberly Honn, WSU’s principal researcher at the Sleep and Performance Research Center, the participating drivers “would be given custom ELDs outfitted with alternative exemption-capable rule-sets, and SmartDrive forward and driver-facing cameras to record critical events on the road.”
Drivers will also put on actigraph watches during waking and sleeping hours, which will be synced with a supplied smartphone for recording sleep/wake patterns.
Drivers would also be asked to use the smartphones two to four times a day for “psychomotor vigilance task tests.”
The tests “will measure response time/patterns to assess fatigue levels to give researchers an indication of whether those utilizing more flexible berth periods experienced substantially different fatigue outcomes than others.”
With the data they hope to gather, researchers will assess the positive or negative consequences of adding split sleeper berth options and make necessary conclusions. The FMCSA did not say how long the pilot study will take, as well as how long it would take to come up with conclusions from the data.
The FMCSA is currently accepting public comments (for 30 days) on their announcement to send its study request to OMB.
As of now, 101 truckers had left their feedback.
Some wanted the split sleeper berth pilot program to be implemented before the ELD mandate takes effect, others left negative comments, while a good number of the participants also left positive feedback.
Following are some of the many comments that people left.
“I think the flexible sleeper berth would greatly improve driver fatigue and any other concerns. Speaking for myself, when I have to take a straight 10 hours but wake up early, it tends to lead to sleepiness later on. But if I could split my sleeping times to fit my sleep pattern, I could be much more productive.” — Marilyn Wynn
“I strongly support the study and am confident that if it results in allowing split sleeper berth options, drivers will be more rested and safer than they are under the current rules. Only the individual can know when he needs to rest or stop because of traffic, weather , or drowsiness. As it is now, drivers feel pressured to keep driving regardless of conditions so that they can maximize their time. Rather that be required to stop for 10 hours at a time , often when not needing sleep, drivers would be more rested if they were allowed to take their sleeper break when their body tells them that they need it.” — Billy Milican
“This is a great idea to review this 10 hour policy. By giving a driver some flexibility if we do get tired we can take a break take a nap and then continue on without ruining or affecting our entire days plan. Please strongly consider making this split Sleeper Berth rule available for everyone in the industry to use. This would be a huge asset to my daily driving because there are times I will admit having to drive sleepy or tired because of the various rules and constraints of the current time clock ticking against me.” — Larry Crutsinger
To view all the comments, visit Regulations.gov.
The trucking industry landscape is shifting yet again.
With the FMCSA pulling the trigger on their plan to pursue the split sleeper berth study, fleets and owner-operators now have another possible regulatory change to look forward to.
Also, when you consider the upcoming ELD implementation date that’s just around the corner — the federal rule will take effect this December 18, 2017 — it becomes apparent that the trucking industry is headed in the right direction in which drivers will feel more comfortable.
If you haven’t started your ELD transition and you’re looking for an ELD that’s packed with features to help you improve your trucking operations, use our ELD feature comparison tool. Also, don’t forget to use our free ELD price comparison tool to compare prices and find the most cost-effective ELD solution.