Following incremental steps toward such a study in recent years, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will formally announce Tuesday a pilot program intended to gauge the feasibility of adding more split sleeper berth options to hours of service regulations.
FMCSA says it seeks at least 200 drivers to participate in the study. Drivers will be studied for up to 90 days, per a Federal Register entry slated for publication June 6, when FMCSA will officially begin soliciting carriers and drivers to participate. Those interested in participating should visit sleeperberthstudy.com to complete an application, take a questionnaire and provide written consent to be studied.
Current regulations allow drivers, as an alternative to a straight 10-hour off-duty period, to take an eight-hour sleeper berth period to break up their 14-hour on-duty limit and their 11-hour drive-time limit. Drivers using this provision must then take a two-hour off-duty or sleeper period after exhausting their current day’s limits.
The agency’s split sleeper berth pilot program seeks to determine the effects other split sleeper berth options, such as 5-5, 6-4 and 7-3 would have on drivers and their fatigue levels. The study’s outcome could dictate whether FMCSA decides to pursue reforms to hours of service regulations pertaining to split sleeper berth flexibility.
FMCSA said last year it had partnered with Virginia Tech’s Transportation Institute and Washington State University to conduct the split sleeper berth pilot program.
Researchers will study the 200 (or more) drivers in their normal operations. However, drivers will be free to split their sleeper berth time into two segments of “any combination … totaling 10 hours.”
“Drivers would be able to use split or consolidated sleep schedules as they choose,” the agency says, “but they still must meet the daily minimum rest requirements.”
The study seeks to gather data from ELDs, monitoring systems like video recorders, roadside inspections, wrist actigraphy (studying total sleep time and wakefulness), psychomotor vigilance tests taken in cab, subjective sleepiness ratings as noted by drivers and sleep logs. Researchers will then study the data and make conclusions regarding the positive or negative outcomes of drivers using split sleeper berth options.
The agency has not said how long the data collection phase will last in sum, only saying individual drivers will be studied for up to 90 days. It also did not say how long it would take to produce conclusions based on the data gathered.
Public comments about the study are being accepted for 60 days, giving carriers and drivers the chance to provide the agency with input about the study and how it should proceed. The comment period opens Tuesday and will be available at the regulations.gov rulemaking portal via Docket No. FMCSA-2016-0260.