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October 17, 2018 12:15 PM, EDT

Stakeholder Comments to FMCSA Favor HOS Flexibility

Driver in cab John Sommers II for Transport Topics

A sample of last-minute written comments by trucking-related trade organizations mostly were supportive of tweaking federal hours-of-service rules to make them more flexible for commercial vehicle drivers.

American Trucking Associations said it agrees that more HOS flexibility should be provided when appropriate and is confident that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will base changes to split sleeper-berth flexibility and revisions to the current 30-minute rest-break requirement on “sound industry data.”

RELATED: FMCSA Listening Session Attendees Call for Flexible HOS Rules

“The carriers and drivers operating on our roadways each and every day can provide a perspective that others may not see,” ATA wrote. “This input, coupled with safety data, should drive this debate.”

Other comments included were submitted by:

Mid-West Truckers Association Inc.: “Many times drivers are hauling loads that do not require them to take the 30-minute break on part of their trip but may have to take it later due to a load change. This makes compliance confusing and onerous for drivers and motor carriers. This rule forces the drivers to stop when they are not tired or there is no safe parking available, putting the driver and the load at risk.”

The National Association of Small Trucking Companies: “Split sleeper-berth time would be the single-best flexibility measure to adopt because it would empower commercial drivers to respond to fatigue, detention at shippers’ facilities, drowsiness, road and weather circumstances, and other contingencies as they are and as they vary each day.”

Agri Beef Co.: “In conjunction with a split sleeper-berth program, we encourage FMCSA to entertain incentivizing shorter “nap breaks” for drivers. The current regulatory structure encourages drivers to push through tired moments or spells of fatigue because, if they stop to rest, even for a short and refreshing nap, their on-duty clocks are still running.”

Maryland Motor Truck Association: Stated it has no position on revising the 30-minute rest break requirement. “If FMCSA revises the split-sleeper berth rule, the agency should consider a revision to the 30-minute rest break rule for those drivers using the sleeper berth since they will already be breaking their day up twice for more substantial off-duty rest periods, negating the need for a 30-minute break.”

However, sleep experts wrote that eliminating the eight-hour driver rest break requirement — the subject of a major complaint by drivers — would represent a step backward from FMCSA’s efforts to reduce fatigue behind the wheel.

Driver and her dogs in a sleeper berth

A driver relaxes in her sleeper berth with her dogs. (TruckPR-Flickr)

“Based on existing science, individuals’ perceived feeling of drowsiness or ‘being tired’ is not reliable in predicting performance capability, and some individuals’ driving capability may be impaired after prolonged wakefulness, even in the absence of drowsiness,” wrote the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional society of 10,000 physicians, scientists and accredited sleep centers. “Therefore, reliance on drivers’ objective sense of their own performance after many hours on the road is not an adequate replacement for the 30-minute rest-break rule.”

The American College of Chest Physicians expressed caution about the proposal to split rest time, claiming splitting the off-duty rest break may further compromise treatment adherence for obstructive sleep apnea, due to the inherent extra steps required to set up therapy for drivers with the condition.

“This society urges the FMCSA to implement policies and intervention to decrease the vulnerability to fatigue and sleepiness by facilitating adherence of positive airway pressure therapy among drivers with diagnosed obstructive sleep apnea,” the chest physicians wrote.

American Alliance for Healthy Sleep said it favors regulations and policies that allow drivers to obtain a sufficient amount of sleep, at least seven continuous hours, to ensure optimal sleep health for drivers as well as the safety of others on the road.

“Therefore, the AAHS is opposed to any policy that would prevent this, including split breaks of 6/4 or 5/5 hours, until additional research on this is completed, specifically the FMCSA Flexible Sleeper Berth Pilot Program,” the group said.

The comment period closed Oct. 10.

Aug. 23 Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by Transport Topics on Scribd