Expect FMCSA To Propose Changes To Its Split Sleeper Berth Rule
By Dave Osiecki, President of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC and Regulatory Consultant to Trimble
In 2019, it’s very likely FMCSA will propose changes to its split sleeper berth rule. Several pieces of information strongly suggest proposed changes are coming.
In late 2018, an FMCSA official commented at a trucking conference that the Agency cancelled a long-planned ‘flexible split sleeper berth pilot program.’ The official simply stated that Agency staff had already collected a fair amount of data and research on this topic. This made me wonder: (1) What research does the Agency have? (2) Does the research lean for or against changing the split sleeper berth rules? and, (3) Will FMCSA use the research it’s collected to propose a change to the current split sleeper berth rule? Let’s walk through these questions.
Research FMCSA has collected was described in a June 2017 Notice proposing a ‘flexible split sleeper berth pilot program.’ In that Notice, FMCSA listed 12 research studies and described each as either showing benefits or negative impacts of split sleep. [See 82 FR 26234-35] The research included 5 reports based on the schedules of CMV drivers, multiple surveys of railroad workers, and an analysis of the sleep/wake schedules of astronauts (yes, astronauts…). The list indicated that FMCSA’s research office had broadened its search criteria and located potentially relevant research outside the typical trucking research community.
Let’s turn to the second question above—does the research lean for or against changing the split sleeper berth rules? It appears to lean pretty strongly in favor of change. Eight of the 12 studies (67%) were listed in a table with the title, “Selected Studies Supporting The Benefits of Split Sleep for Transportation Operators.” The other 4 studies (33%) were listed in a separate table with the title, “Selected Studies Showing Negative Impacts of Split Sleep for Transportation Operators.” Importantly, the dates of the 8 studies supporting the benefits of split sleep ranged from 2007 to 2013—meaning, those studies are of relatively recent vintage. The 4 studies showing negative impacts of split sleep ranged from 1988 to 2002. FMCSA commented in its 2017 notice that the findings from these 4 studies are “potentially outdated…” [See 82 FR 26235]
In late 2018, current FMCSA leadership arrived at a different decision regarding the pilot program, presumably based in part on the split sleep research it currently possesses. And, it’s likely FMCSA has collected additional research since publishing its list of 12 studies in 2017.
This brings us to the third question–will FMCSA use the research it’s collected to propose changes to its current split sleeper berth rule/provision? As stated up front, the likely answer is yes. Allow me to connect some dots:
- In 2017, FMCSA proposed a split sleeper berth pilot program. The decision to propose it was made by a holdover from the Obama Administration;
- In early 2018, the Senate confirms a Trump Administration-appointed Administrator to lead FMCSA;
- In August 2018, FMCSA surprises the industry by publishing an advance notice of proposed rulemaking asking questions about possible hours of service changes, including the split sleeper berth provision;
- Later in August, the American Transportation Research Institute, a trucking industry funded research organization, releases a new study highlighting “potential benefits” of allowing truck drivers more flexibility when taking required rest breaks using a sleeper berth;
- In October 2018, FMCSA leadership cancels the proposed split sleeper berth pilot program explaining it has a ‘fair amount of data and research’ on the topic; and,
- In late 2018, FMCSA leadership indicates the hours of service-related decision making within FMCSA and the Department of Transportation is on an accelerated timeline.
Given its accelerated timeline, FMCSA is likely to publish its proposed hours of service changes early in 2019, including proposed sleeper berth changes FMCSA believes current research might support.
Have questions? If so, email Trimble’s ELD and regulatory consultant, Dave Osiecki, of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting LLC, at email@example.com