Should a driver have to spend a full eight hours at a time in the sleeper? Photo: Peterbilt

Should a driver have to spend a full eight hours at a time in the sleeper? Photo: Peterbilt

It will take another year to launch a pilot program to see if drivers can safely split their sleeper berth rest time.

The contract to conduct the 90-day study will be let in December, but the project will have to be cleared by the Office of Management and Budget, and the administrative preparations will take at least until January 2016, said Martin Walker, chief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s research division.

The agency is undertaking the pilot at the request of carriers and drivers who want more flexible sleeper rules.

The current rule says drivers who use the sleeper berth must take at least eight consecutive hours in it, plus two separate consecutive hours either in the berth, off duty or any combination of the two.

American Trucking Associations and other industry groups have been pressing the agency to make the rule more flexible, and in response the agency started work on the pilot program about a year ago.

Walker, in remarks Monday to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee in Alexandria, Va., said the study aims to test the premise that greater flexibility will reduce driver fatigue.

The agency wants to collect data on 200 drivers.

The sample will be divided among carrier size and types of operations. It will include 50 small carriers with up to 50 trucks, 50 medium carriers with up to 500 trucks and 50 large carriers. It also will include 25 owner-operators and 25 team drivers, Walker said.

The agency will work with industry groups to solicit and screen drivers through a website. Drivers who are accepted will be trained in the North American Fatigue Management Program, which teaches the science of fatigue, treatment of sleep disorders and driver wellness.

Once the program is under way, drivers will be monitored and data will be collected through a variety of automated technologies.

Their driving behavior will be tracked through onboard monitoring systems, including electronic logs. They also will complete a psychomotor vigilance test twice a day, and will wear actigraph watches to track sleep patterns, heart rate and physical activity.

Other data will include the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale, roadside violations, crashes and surveys to gather driver opinions.

“The point is to find a way to give drivers more flexibility if possible,” Walker said.

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