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Fleet Owner Magazine

Drivers can rest easy... finally

FMCSA study on sleeper berth flexibility a long time coming

In everyone's life, at some point in time, we encounter an "I told you so" moment—a true reflection of dancing in the end zone, a rubbing it in of sorts, even bragging rights if you want to call it that.

At this point in time, however, with the recent announcement that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is moving forward with a study to determine whether or not sleeper berth flexibility is a necessity, our moment has finally come. 

Finally, we revel over what has been years in the making. This is a moment for our industry to celebrate what we have been saying all along—that sleeper berth flexibility is needed  to allow our drivers to determine for themselves whether or not they need  to break up the day and take a nap.

The very reason for our revelry is the announcement of a study in which the agency will determine what benefits, if any, would be bestowed to the trucking industry and those we share the road with by breaking up the day to include stops in the 14-hour clock and provide drivers with the ability to break up their sleeper berth hours. 

Finally, the agency, based a vocal industry, will begin its study seeking to produce statistically reliable evidence on the question of "whether split sleeper berth time affects driver safety performance and fatigue levels." 

On a recent road trip to one of my son's baseball tournaments, I began to notice trucks on the interstate in relation to this issue more than ever before. A two-hour journey for me served as part of a professional driver's daily trip.  I encountered hard rain, traffic jams, and erratic drivers on my short trip, but I imagine our professional drivers see these things on a daily basis.  While this trip was short in terms of driving for me, after two hours I enjoyed a respite when finally arriving at the tournament.

Drivers may enjoy a rest when they reach a customer or rest at the end of their workday, but the mounting idea is that their 14-hour clock that keeps moving can hinder their ability to feel as if they can pull over and sleep when they are tired. 

Obviously, pulling over to sleep when a driver gets tired is viewed as an easy decision to make, and many assume that this could be a common practice. How­ever, the very problem with our hours-of-service rule is that the on-duty clock keeps ticking, unless that quick cat nap turns into 10 consecutive hours. Drivers prohibited from stopping their on-duty clock may be discouraged from actually taking that break and pushing onward. 

In the opinions expressed by countless drivers, without the ability to stop the clock, any break hampers their capacity to earn the maximum amount of salary that they can, thus the insistence on continuing down the road.

FMCSA will seek to determine the effects other sleeper berth options such as the 5-5, 6-4 and 7-3 would have on drivers and their ability to operate a truck. 

All that being said, we as an industry cannot emphasize enough the need for flexibility.  A study that examines driver alertness, sleep quantity, and changes in health metrics can ultimately reveal that stopping that clock for a quick cat nap is what we have needed all along. 

As we all know, these studies take time. After all, the length of time it has taken to get to this announcement seems like an eternity—and this will prove itself to be no different.  At a minimum, the time frame for data collection will be at least a year.  Examining the data and issuing the corresponding reports will take even longer. And this brings the old cliché to mind: Good things come to those who wait. The good thing will prove itself to be a new, yet old, added benefit to a driving force that truly needs it, a well-deserved rest. 

With the freedom for our drivers to split their sleeper berth time in the way they best see fit, it should increase both the safety on America's roadways by diminishing accidents caused by fatigue, as well as the ability of drivers to earn while driving safely.

As we wait for the results of the study to show us what we already know, the trucking industry can celebrate our "I told you so" moment.

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