Drivers and others in trucking called for more flexibility in sleeper berth regulations Friday, March 26, during the fifth public hearing on revising the hours of service rule.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration held the day-long meeting at a convention center in Louisville, Ky.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, who has attended some of the hearings, said the challenge is finding ways to make the regs more flexible, but in ways that will “protect us from those who abuse the system.”
She said there will be further opportunity for comment before the agency issues a final rule, which is due by July 2011.
Donald Miller of Swift Transportation said the lack of sleeper berth split flexibility works against smart timing for getting through urban rush hours and forces drivers to eat while they drive instead of taking a break.
Sue Walker of Enterprise Transportation said she has trouble with split sleeper berth restrictions when she’s forced out of her normal daytime body cycles. That happens “when I have to start out at midnight or 1 in the morning to pick up a load and drive through the night,” she said.
Outside of complaints about the sleeper berth provisions, Usher Transport’s 260 drivers like the current rule, said Bill Usher. Since the current rule went into effect, the nation’s truck-related fatalities have dropped dramatically, he said. “Statistically, it defends itself,” he said.
Usher said he’s also concerned about the training that would be required if the rule changes substantially because he can’t risk having even a few drivers who aren’t up to speed. “To get 100 percent compliance is a very arduous task,” he said.
Usher’s safety director, Mike Baker, said it’s normal for drivers to become fatigued before the end of a duty cycle, such as after eating lunch. “We need to encourage drivers to take naps during the day,” he said, but that’s virtually impossible. “Now we can split two sessions, but one’s got to be at least eight hours. The drivers all say that is too restrictive.”
He said the 34-hour restart is good, and often works out to two days off for Usher’s drivers.
The lack of sleeper berth flexibility within the 14-hour on-duty cycle has put more pressure on how drivers utilize their time, said Mike Overton. “They’re coming through the truck stop like it’s a super highway, simply because of the 14-hour block.”
His wife, Teresa Overton, said she became aware of inefficiencies in the current rule when she drove team with her husband. “I would like to see the hours of service for a team be separate from the hours for single drivers because it is two different scenarios.”
David Boyer, a Teamster who drives for ABF Freight System in Louisville, said he likes the 11-hour driving limit. He also prefers the 10-hour rest period over the eight hours mandated under the previous hours rule. “It gives me time to wind down,” he said.
Unpredictable hours and long delays in loading and unloading cause problems with hours because the waits become unprofitable on-duty time, said Donald Blair, who drives for his family-owned fleet. “Something needs to be done about that,” he said.
Donna Wing said the current hours rule allows less work time per week than the prior rule, which limits her income, so any revision needs to extend allowable work. “I have to stay out and make up for that time that is lost,” she said. “I love my family. I love my home. I just don’t get there that much.”
D.J. Brown called for better training of new drivers and more simplicity overall in regs that affect drivers. “Let the feds take care of the DOT,” he said. “They gave it to states. The states gave it to the counties. The counties gave it to the cities. There’s no way I can keep up with all those laws.”