A truck driver explains why you need to comment on trucking hours of service regulation.
To submit your comment online to the FMCSA, go to www.regulations.gov, put the docket number FMCSA-2018-0248 in the keyword box, and click “Search.” When the new screen appears, click the “Comment Now!” button and type your comment into the text box on the following screen. Choose whether you are submitting your comment as an individual or on behalf of a third party and then submit.
How comfortable would you be driving next to an 80,000 lb semitruck, if you knew the driver may have been working as long as 17 hours with only 7 hours of sleep opportunity the previous night? This worst-case scenario would be legal under a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that Sleep Review has already reported on.
With comments due on October 21 (an extension from the original 45-day comment period), getting the word out to sleep medicine professionals is a challenge. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has to balance conflicting desires of various stakeholder groups in rulemakings. It gives weight to comments from medical professionals with relevant expertise. FMCSA also wants research that supports comments (when available).
In my opinion, there are good and bad aspects of the proposed rule.
Currently commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers abide by a 14-hour workday rule. That is, we cannot drive 14 hours after performing any work; a 10 consecutive hour break becomes mandatory.
Currently, there is no option to stop this 14-hour clock for naps. So drivers are effectively discouraged from naps because the 14-hour clock keeps running—cutting into drive time. As most over-the-road drivers are paid by the mile, any reduction in available drive time lowers pay.
But napping strategies are an effective tool in fatigue management. Napping also allows a driver to pause outside a major metropolitan area at rush hour and go through later with less traffic. Trucking industry research has shown both the economic and congestion benefits of this.
So rulemaking that would allow drivers to pause the 14-hour clock with a break of 2 to 3 hours, such as that detailed in this NPRM, might be a good thing. The “split breaks” proposal—where the required 10 hours off may be taken in 2 separate segments—of this NPRM is widely popular in trucking to give drivers flexibility in managing their fatigue.
But will drivers be able to nap during these pauses?
After all, a problem in CMV driver fatigue management is detention time. Detention time is time spent waiting while the truck is being loaded or unloaded. Split breaks might be used to hide detention time, even though it should be included in the 14-hour clock. (Imagine trying to sleep in a sleeper berth while it lurches every time the forklift comes into the trailer, bouncing you enough to fall out of the bed. Been there, done that.)
Also, there is the problem of “forced dispatch.” This refers to the scenario that if an on-time delivery can be made (through any legal manipulation of the hours of service), then not making the delivery on time is grounds for discipline (up to and including termination). So drivers could conceivably be advised to take a split break at times that are not conducive to sleep (such as immediately after waking) to extend the workday to make an on-time delivery.
FMCSA needs to hear from sleep professionals about the effects of biphasic sleep where the major period is 7 hours or less. It also needs to know about research on positive and negative implications of biphasic sleep on other medical conditions. Comments on sleep pressure and human’s lack of ability to sleep on demand are also needed. Research or case studies from other industries using napping strategies to improve fatigue will be useful. Comments from multiple experts that reference citations of the same research showing the effects of being awake too long and the blood-alcohol level equivalents1 of drowsy driving will not hurt.
Support and research from medical professionals for proposals from trucking groups asking for: limiting split sleeper berth to only times and locations of the drivers choosing, and not allowing sleeper berth splits at a location where freight was picked up or delivered.
Please submit your comments to the docket, attend a public listening session, or reach out to the author. Sleep professionals need to share their expertise on this important subject.
Bob Stanton is a working over-the-road truck driver with sleep apnea who has been active on regulatory issues and a contributor to Sleep Review in the past. Email him at truckerdad57[at]sbcglobal.net.
1. Williamson AM, Feyer AM. Moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to legally prescribed levels of alcohol intoxication. Occup Environ Med. 2000 Oct;57(10):649-55.
Image: The primary cause of this 2009 highway accident in Miami, Okla, which caused 10 fatalities and 5 injuries, according to the NTSB, was acute fatigue at 13 hours on duty. Photo by Oklahoma Highway Patrol.