NSF Recommends New Hours-of-Service Rules for Commercial Drivers

Feb. 29, 2000
Because of the number of fatigue-related truck and bus crashes on the nation's highways, NSF is calling for new hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers.

Concerned about the number of fatigue-related truck and bus crashes on the nation's highway, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) is calling for new hours-of-service rules for commercial drivers.

Citing studies on fatigue, driving performance and fall-asleep crashes, NSF is urging the Department of Transportation (DOT) 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 also suggest highway improvements and sleep disorder screening as well as comprehensive education programs to reduce fall-asleep crashes among commercial drivers.

NSF emphasized off-duty time as one of the most important factors in regulating hours-of-service, and calls for a "12/12" rule.

Specifically, new rules should limit drivers to 12 hours on duty followed by 12 hours off duty, with one period of 9 continuous hours to be used for sleep, according to NSF.

Under current rules, a driver can drive and perform other non-driving duties for up to 15 hours after having had a minimum of 8 hours off duty.

That is not enough time to get proper sleep and eat meals, travel to and from work, and handle family and social obligations, NSF contends.

In addition, those 8 hours can be split into two separate periods if the driver has a sleeper berth.

However, 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 current hours-of-service rules generally get about 3 hours less sleep per day than what humans need to function optimally, cited NSF.

"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 know about our sleep needs and the effects on fatigue and alertness," said Anne McCartt, Ph.D., chairman of NSF's Transportation Committee.

"Given what we 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 used now."

NSF cautioned 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," said McCartt. "That means establishing scientifically-based rules to set maximum limits on driving time and consistently enforcing them."

DOT has come under increasing fire from Congress and safety advocates for the delay in proposing new rules and for not enforcing current rules.

As a result of the delay, President Clinton signed legislation last year creating the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, tasked with reducing motor carrier crashes.

About the Author

EHS Today Staff

EHS Today's editorial staff includes:

Dave Blanchard, Editor-in-Chief: During his career Dave has led the editorial management of many of Endeavor Business Media's best-known brands, including IndustryWeekEHS Today, Material Handling & LogisticsLogistics Today, Supply Chain Technology News, and Business Finance. In addition, he serves as senior content director of the annual Safety Leadership Conference. With over 30 years of B2B media experience, Dave literally wrote the book on supply chain management, Supply Chain Management Best Practices (John Wiley & Sons, 2021), which has been translated into several languages and is currently in its third edition. He is a frequent speaker and moderator at major trade shows and conferences, and has won numerous awards for writing and editing. He is a voting member of the jury of the Logistics Hall of Fame, and is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.

Adrienne Selko, Senior Editor: In addition to her roles with EHS Today and the Safety Leadership Conference, Adrienne is also a senior editor at IndustryWeek and has written about many topics, with her current focus on workforce development strategies. She is also a senior editor at Material Handling & Logistics. Previously she was in corporate communications at a medical manufacturing company as well as a large regional bank. She is the author of Do I Have to Wear Garlic Around My Neck?, which made the Cleveland Plain Dealer's best sellers list.

Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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