As part of a broader effort to modify hours-of-service rules for commercial truck drivers, the American Trucking Associations this month joined with the Minnesota Trucking Association to petition the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a pilot study that would identify the potential safety benefits of giving truckers with sleeper berths more flexibility in how they take rest breaks.
“The trucking industry wants FMCSA to take its positive, laboratory-based findings on the value of split sleep and try to repeat them in a real-world field study,” ATA President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Graves said in a statement. “Doing a pilot test using professional drivers in actual trucking operations could give the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration even more scientific data on which to base future improvements to the sleeper berth rules.”
Anti-fatigue rules for truck drivers require that they take 10 consecutive hours off after their 14-hour, on-duty period, but sleep research has increasingly highlighted the benefits of shorter and more frequent rest periods, according to the ATA.
The two trucking associations want to allow team drivers to break up their 10-hour, off-duty period into two shorter periods.
"Experience teaches us that humans have different sleep habits, and regulatory limitations do not always address them adequately," the ATA and MTA said in a letter regarding sleeper berths addressed to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.
In addition to examining the potential benefits of sleeper-berth flexibility, the pilot project will also look at the role of technological improvements in promoting driver alertness and safety. Advances such as fleet management systems and electronic logging devices have enabled trucking companies to make sure drivers are complying with hours-of-service rules, and the ATA and MTA said they could be evaluated to assure that drivers are not operating vehicles while fatigued.
The ATA also wants to change the new requirement for a 34-hour break once a driver reaches his or her 70-hour weekly driving limit. It argues that many drivers are out of action for a much longer period, depending on when they disengage, because the 34 hours now must include two nights of rest.
Some trucking companies are reporting that the new hours-of-service rules, including the 12-hour reduction in total weekly time behind the wheel, is crimping productivity by 2 percent to 3 percent. Schneider National says productivity for team drivers is off 4.3 percent.
The feature story "Constricting Capacity"
in the November issue provides an in-depth look at how FMCSA regulations, including HOS, are taking a bite out of motor carrier reserves of drivers and equipment, which are already at very low levels.
In the story, Stifel transportation stock analyst John Larkin said he had information that FedEx Freight switched to a different carrier for subcontracted loads when the original carrier couldn't perform on certain lanes without violating the new HOS rules.
"At FedEx, safe trucking operations are our top priority. Our operations comply with the new hours-of-service rules promulgated by regulators despite the fact that we believe they have an adverse effect on productivity, and we’ve seen no evidence they improve safety," spokesperson Maury Donahue said in an e-mail response to American Shipper
. "Our customers will see no impact to service as a result of the rule change or court decision. Our commitment to them is unchanged.
"We understand there are bipartisan efforts in Congress to clarify these rules further, and FedEx would support legislation that enhances safety while preserving productivity.”