WASHINGTON — New research could help federal regulators add more “flexibility” to the latest truck driver hours of service rules, the top U.S. truck safety regulator said Tuesday.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this year plans a pilot project to test the impact of split sleep periods on truck drivers, FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro told the 93rd annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.
That pilot test will build on an FMCSA study released in late 2012 that found sleep periods of five hours split between night and day were better for drivers than a 10-hour daytime sleep period.
By using technology “on display and in full use today” such as electronic logging devices and in-cab driver monitoring, FMCSA could test the impact of allowing drivers to split 10-hour rest periods.
Industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations, are eager and willing to participate in the pilot project, Ferro said.
Currently, drivers are required to spend 10 hours off duty after 14 hours of work, including up to 11 hours of driving. Drivers also must take a half-hour rest break after eight consecutive hours of work.
The latest version of the hours of service rules, introduced last July, also require drivers to spend two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods off-duty before starting a new work week, limiting use of the “34-hour restart” provision of the rules.
Trucking companies and drivers complain the rules have sapped productivity from carrier operations and money from driver pockets, making their schedules much less flexible.
“Over and over again when we were developing the hours of service rule back in 2010, there were calls for reintroducing some of the flexibility that we had prior to 2005, prior to 2003,” Ferro said. “Drivers felt very strongly they knew when to rest and when not to rest.
“I kept saying, ‘I would love to try that but how do we do that in the context of safety controls? How do we reintroduce that degree of flexibility with some degree degree of reasonable oversight?’ Nobody had an answer.”
Technology can help provide that answer, she said. “We think ... we could test the concept of reintroducing some degree of flexibility within the context of strong oversight,” said Ferro.
Now in her fifth year at the head of the FMCSA, Ferro also defended the agency’s goal of “zero fatalities and crashes,” criticized by some opponents of regulatory changes in Congress as “ideological” and impractical.
The agency’s goals are “aspirational,” not ideological, she said. “We shouldn’t suggest that we can explain and justify the fatality crashes, the serious injury crashes that happen today. We need to continue to drive toward outcomes that eliminate crashes.”