More hours flexibility would improve safety

Published February, 14 2013

Hark back to a time if not of hope and change at least hope for change, as the Obama administration’s leadership team at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration came into office in 2009 and, within a year, did something that hadn’t been done in a long while — reached out to drivers.

You’ll recall the series of “listening sessions,” formal raps with drivers and owner-operators at a host of truck stops around the nation, a trucking show and on the web dedicated to garnering input from the key stakeholders in the hours issue to finally put the shifting-service-regs problem to bed.

Those key stakeholders – that’s you — got the change they were looking for. Problem is, FMCSA didn’t listen to their key concern. While the agency did modify the regs to allow for occasional two-hour extension of the 14-hour clock to compensate for extended dock wait times, they added further sleeper berth restrictions relative to the 34-hour restart provision and left the 8/2-hour sleeper split unchanged.

During the listening sessions, over and over again drivers had told the agency they wanted more split flexibility with potential to extend the 14-hour workday in order to remove systemic pressures to “drive tired” in order to maximize limited driving hours, as reader Eric Hassevoort put it on Overdrive‘s Facebook page. His commentary, along with that of many other haulers, came on the heels of results from an FMCSA-commissioned study reported on in January that in some ways seemed to back up the call for more flexibility.

The study showed that drivers utilizing more-permissive 5-hour split sleep periods could be expected to get more sleep than those using consolidated daytime-only berth periods. The study provided a means to quantify the “sleep when you need it, drive when you don’t” maxim, wrote Craig Vecellio, commenting at “If you get to sleep when you are tired, you are more alert and healthier on the inside. The split sleep not only showed no difference in performance, it also showed no difference in blood composition and general sleepiness…. It is true that “if you get to sleep when you are tired, you don’t need as much sleep.”

Irrespective of whether they needed it or not, split sleepers were shown to get on average 1.2 hours less sleep per day than those who slept during consolidated night-time periods. Cynics said the agency would use the figure to justify current berth restrictions.

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