Citing studies on fatigue, driving performance and fall-asleep crashes, NSF is urging the Department of Transportation to adopt a comprehensive system placing responsible limits on driving within a 24-hour period and mandating on-board monitoring and enforcement by compliance officers. NSF's position statement also calls for highway improvements, as well as sleep disorder screening and comprehensive educational programs to reduce fall-asleep crashes among commercial drivers.
NSF emphasizes off-duty time as one of the most important factors in regulating hours-of-service, and calls for a "12/12" rule. Specifically, says NSF, new rules should limit drivers to 12 hours on duty followed by 12 hours off duty, with one period of nine continuous hours to be used for sleep.
This is very close to what has been widely reported will be in the new rules. It is believed the proposal will call for a 10-hour rest period, with another two hours of rest required during the remaining 14-hour period, for a total of 12 on/12 off.
The NSF also wants to see the elimination of the "sleeper berth split." It says research shows that crash risks increase as the number of hours on duty increase, and that people who sleep in short periods or in environments with excessive noise and light do not obtain adequate sleep. Sleep research shows that most people need at least 8 hours of sleep to maintain proper alertness. Yet a government study found that commercial drivers abiding by today's hours-of-service rules generally obtain about 3 hours less sleep per day than what humans need to function optimally.
"Today's hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers have been in place since 1938, when highway conditions were significantly different and when very little was known about our sleep needs and the effects of fatigue on alertness," says Anne McCartt, PhD, chairman of NSF's Transportation Committee. "Given that we now know our biological clocks run on a 24-hour cycle, with distinct periods where sleepiness naturally occurs, new regulations must be based on a 24-hour clock, rather than the current system now used."
NSF cautions that hours-of-service rules alone cannot regulate driver fatigue and alertness. "Ultimately, responsibility for managing fatigue must be shared by drivers, carriers, shippers, receivers, and the government," says McCartt. "That means establishing scientifically-based rules to set maximum limits on driving time and consistently enforcing them."
In NSF's yet-to-be released 2000 "Sleep in America" omnibus poll, 51% of respondents said they had driven while drowsy during the past two weeks. Fifty-three percent of respondents said they were concerned about the number of hours that transportation workers drive. These statistics and others regarding sleepiness, safety and productivity will be released on March 28, as part of National Sleep Awareness Week 2000 (March 27-April 2).