More hours flexibility would improve safety

| 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 OverdriveOnline.com. “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.

Most, in the end, were united behind the need for more berth flexibility. “One-size-fits-all regulations don’t promote safety,” James Martin wrote on Overdrive’s Facebook page, referencing drivers’ differing schedules and sleep needs. “I rarely sleep more than five hours at a time. Then I have to sit around unproductive for another five hours. By then, I’m ready to go back to sleep.”

More views follow:

Mike Nagy: I actually liked the newer rules as they were. The 11-14-10. When they did away with the split sleeper berth provision, then it got dangerous.

Scan the code or click through the image to download a copy of the split-sleep-period study conducted at FMCSA’s behest by researchers at Washington State University’s Sleep and Performance Research Center.

Craig Vecellio: Although the subjects [in the study] showed little difference in performance tests, there were differences in blood composition, which demonstrates the buildup of fatigue poisons, and general sleepiness…. As of my posting [via OverdriveOnline.com], there are three other comments, all complaints in nature.

All three are based only on the summary, not the detailed data. Wake up, guys! This test proves what drivers have been saying all along. Don’t dismiss this test just because it was done by the FMCSA. It actually shoots a hole in some of their goofy theories, which they have used to manipulate our sleep and which actually resulted in more tired driving. Usually, the FMCSA just messes with us, but this study actually backs up what drivers have been saying. Don’t let your usual dissatisfaction with the FMCSA shade your opinion of this study without reading it, unless you want to reinforce the public’s idea that truckers are dumb.

Andrea Sitler: Personally, from experience myself as a driver and dispatching drivers, I have found that keeping a driver on a schedule just like you would any other worker is the best bet. If the person is used to day sleep, they sleep fine. I don’t care what profession you are in; you can’t rotate shifts and expect the body to just adjust. If trucking would embrace this simple fact, it would be easier and safer for us all.

Keith [commenting at OverdriveOnline.com]: I disagree that one cannot get the body to adjust to a rotating shift. While in the military I worked a rotating shift for many years. Four swings, four midnight, four day shifts and three and a half days off. Then I started all over again. Thousands of other military members did just fine as well. While we would have loved to be on one set shift, the rotating shifts offered some good time off for seeing the countries where we were stationed. Also, what about cops, firemen, emergency room doctors and nurses and many, many other professionals who also work rotating shifts? And cops carry guns! Doctors and nurses use scalpels and drugs to save lives. Why are those professions not being challenged? Answer: Because our industry doesn’t have the balls to stand up and fight!

Ben Wilson: They should redo the hours rules and let us decide how to divide our working, driving and sleeping times based on our own needs. Forget the 34-hour restart and the 70-hour week. Refresh each day, and after 6 days require at least 24 consecutive hours off duty. Enforce it strictly, both on drivers and companies. Too many people who have no idea what they are dealing with are trying to deal with this issue.

Marty Sprague: I think that they should either bring back the split break as it was or make it so that any sleeper time over 2 hours would extend the 14 hours. Also, the restart should be cut to 24 hours with the stipulation that you can’t return to work (driving) until the first 6 a.m. after completion of a reset. That would prevent a driver from starting a reset at say 20:00 and, after spending a day with their family, or doing laundry and shopping or whatever, being forced to start work without a good night’s sleep.

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