Chime in to pilot program

July 6, 2017
Ability for drivers to stop and nap during 14-hour shifts is a must

Deadlines make life interesting. Just ask the editor of Fleet Owner, who religiously informs me of my monthly cutoff date to get this column in. Quite obviously, I always want to write about something suitable, important to the industry, and at times, relate the position of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) on the issue if it proves to be a pertinent point.
I must have continuously thought about what to write for this column for what seemed like an eternity. I took a few work trips to deliver presentations in hopes that a question or two might cure what ailed me. This can only be described as writer’s block, though I would imagine one might need to truly be a writer to actually call my lack of ideas a “block.” 

Either way, there I was at my wits end when, believe or not, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) came to my rescue.  I know the phrase “I’m with the federal government and I’m here to help” comes to mind accompanied with either a sarcastic grin or a nervous spasm. 

Regardless, FMCSA saved the day by releasing information about a pilot program to determine what benefits, if any, the trucking industry can derive from adding flexibility to the sleeper berth and essentially allowing truck drivers the opportunity to actually take a nap while stopping their 14-hour work clock. In a nutshell, I can now expound on this important truckload issue in roughly 700 or so words.

The harsh reality is that TCA, its members, and the trucking industry as a whole have constantly extolled the value of being able to split the sleeper berth portion of the hours-of-service regulations into something other than what it is, i.e., an inability to stop the 14-hour on-duty clock that has defined our drivers’ workday since 2005.  It was our hours-of-service regulations that remained roughly unchanged from 1962 to the beginning of the 21st century.  After that, any description regarding hours of service was often accompanied by the term “much maligned.” 

We have made no secret of the fact that sleeper berth flexibility is a regulatory priority for our industry.  It is essential that our drivers obtain proper rest and comfort in knowing they are  able to sleep when they are tired. The inability to stop the on-duty clock to perform that basic function has hinder­ed the decision-making capa­bility of our drivers because of the powerlessness to stop that time clock, placing them in a no-win position. 

Support for this initiative is a no-brain­­er.  Our industry has spoken for years on this issue, and the time has come to speak our minds and support this pilot program so that our efforts do not go quietly into the night.  While it may be a stretch to incorporate Dylan Thomas and his classic line of rage against the dying of the light, I cannot underscore enough the importance of industry support that needs to surround this pilot program regarding sleeper berth flexibility. 

Drivers should be lined up, and FMCSA should have its pick of the litter in an effort to derive sensible data that proves once and for all that our industry speaks from a position of authority.  Our company owners, our industry practitioners, and our safety brethren, with the incorporation of sound data and science, should now have the opportunity to support an issue that we have sounded off on for years. 

The time is now for your comments to be placed in the docket to support a program that could change how our drivers operate. Our industry should take advantage of this avenue by supplying comments. Just go to, the website set up by FMCSA  to re­cruit drivers to take part in this much-needed study. The last hours of service go-round netted over 27,000 comments to the docket, but your help is not just needed there. 

As a representative of the truckload world, I would encourage you to find applicable drivers to take part in this research so that we can finally put this issue in our rear-view mirror.  

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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