When it comes to impacting trucking regulations, we may be wise to follow the writings of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu. In 600 B.C. he wrote: “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
His message is simple: be flexible but persistent. In late 2013, the MTA and the ATA jointly submitted a petition to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a two-year pilot program to study the safety benefits and impacts of giving truck drivers more flexibility in their use of sleeper berth breaks. We specifically asked the agency to conduct a real-world field study evaluating a split sleeper berth time for meeting federal rest requirements.
We believe that allowing drivers to break up their ten-hour off-duty period into two shorter periods would be beneficial to both safety and overall driver rest.
I am pleased to say that our persistence is paying off. In early June, FMCSA discussed the details of their plan to study whether adding more flexibility to the sleeper berth rules would improve driver rest and alertness.
The study, being conducted by Washington State University and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, will allow approximately 240 drivers to split their off-duty sleeper berth time into two segments – of at least three hours, totaling at least ten hours — which will not count toward the 14-hour driving window. Drivers will be observed for 90 days and will have their sleep patterns, fatigue levels, roadside violations and safety critical events monitored daily via video event recorders.
When the study is complete, researchers will analyze the data to determine if allowing drivers the flexibility to choose the best time to rest — e.g. when they’re tired, when traffic congestion is greatest, etc. — improves driver safety. FMCSA and its study partners are currently developing the recruitment website as well as the necessary technological components.
Data collection is expected to begin in 2017 and is expected to conclude in early 2018. Study results may inform future beneficial changes to the sleeper berth provision of the Hours of Service rules.
The pace of regulatory change can be awfully discouraging. But like water, if we keep applying pressure in the right direction even the hardest challenges can be addressed. You can trust the MTA to persistently keep working on your most important issues!