The American Trucking Associations and Minnesota Trucking Association have jointly petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a pilot program to study the effect of increased flexibility in the use of sleeper berth breaks by truck drivers.

“The trucking industry wants FMCSA to take its positive, laboratory-based findings on the value of split sleep and try to repeat them in a real-world field study,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “Doing a pilot test using professional drivers in actual trucking operations could give the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration even more scientific data on which to base future improvements to the sleeper berth rules.”

The hours-of-service rules for truck drivers require that they take 10 consecutive hours off after their 14-hour on-duty period. However, increasingly sleep research highlights the benefits of shorter and more frequent rest periods, according to both groups.

“In the case of many truck drivers, particularly those working in teams, allowing them to break up their 10-hour off-duty period into two shorter periods would be beneficial,” said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association.

In addition to examining any potential benefits of sleeper berth flexibility, the pilot project proposed by the trucking groups would look at the role of technological improvements in promoting driver alertness and safety.

For several years many trucking groups, along with drivers, have been calling for changes to this part of federal hours-of-service regulations, contending that the current rules offer less flexibility and don’t allow truckers to get adequate rest. Prior HOS regulations allowed truck drivers to split rest time, rather than forcing them to take it all at once, often called the "split sleeper berth" rule.

ATA and others also have objected to changes in hours-of-service rules that went into effect this year, requiring truckers to take a 30-minute break after no more than eight hours of driving and limiting use of the 34-hour restart to one per week with each restart including two rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.

The study was proposed to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro in a Dec. 3 correspondence from both groups.

"Implementing a split-sleep off-duty schedule option seems to be a viable option to improving or sustaining driver alertness,” both groups said in the proposal. “The majority of sleep studies to date demonstrate that well-timed split sleep either had a positive effect or no effect on subsequent neurobehavioral performance, supporting the hypothesis that the restorative effects of sleep on performance may be maintained when splitting the overall sleep episode into multiple naps.”

The ATA-MTA request can be viewed on the ATA website