The sleeper berth provision is one of several changes the federal agency made to the hours-of-service regulations, which spell out the length of time commercial drivers can operate trucks before they are required to take a break.
The revised rules create separate provisions for short-haul drivers who are not required to have a commercial driver's license (CDL) such as landscape crews and delivery drivers. Under the new provisions, non-CDL drivers who operate within a 150-mile radius of their starting point are allowed to work more than 14 hours a day but no more than 16 hours a day 2 days a week, up from 1 day a week in the previous rule. Also, non-CDL drivers no longer will have to maintain logbooks.
The new provisions for short-haul drivers were prompted by safety data showing that short-haul drivers make up over half the nation's commercial fleet yet are involved in less than 7 percent of fatigue-related fatal truck crashes, according to FMCSA.
The revised hours-of-service rules take effect Oct. 1. FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg, however, said there will be a 3-month transition period allowing carriers and states to update educational materials, train employees and re-program driving schedules.
The rules replace the hours-of-service regulations that were updated in 2003, although much of the 2003 rules remain unchanged. As in the 2003 regulations, the new rules prohibit property-carrying commercial drivers from driving more than 11 hours in a row, working longer than 14 hours in a shift and driving more than 60 hours over a 7-day period or 70 hours over an 8-day period.
In addition, the new rules require truckers to rest for at least 10 hours between shifts and provide a 34-hour period to recover from cumulative fatigue. Both provisions carry over from the 2003 rule. However, the new rules contain a change to the latter regulation stating that the 34-hour restart period may begin at the start of any consecutive 34-hour off-duty period.
Under the sleeper berth exception spelled out in the 2003 hours-of-service regulations, truckers are allowed to meet the 10-hour minimum rest period requirement by splitting sleeper berth time into two periods, provided neither rest period is less than 2 hours.
The revised rules state that commercial drivers must rest for at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth in addition to 2 consecutive hours either in or out of the sleeper berth.
According to FMCSA, studies show that drivers are less likely to be fatigued if they take a single 8-hour block of rest than if they break their rest into smaller periods of time, as they were allowed under the 2003 rule.
FMCSA says it tasked driver health and safety experts to review more than 1,000 health- and fatigue-related articles and studies and considered thousands of comments received from drivers, truck companies, safety advocates and researchers before settling on the new safety provisions.
Based on this research, FMCSA concluded the new rules will keep drivers healthy and reduce the 5.5 percent of fatal truck crashes that are caused by driver fatigue.
"Drivers that are well-rested are less likely to lose control, crash or injure others," Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta said.
ATA: Impact of Sleeper Berth Change Should be Monitored
Bill Graves, president of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), said, "We need to closely examine the impact of the new 'sleeper berth' rule on trucking companies and their drivers, particularly team drivers that are so critical to our just-in-time economy."
"In the meantime, we feel confident that the trucking industry will continue its positive progress in safety and productivity under these rules," Graves said.
Graves also said ATA's research shows the current federal hours-of-service rules "have been measurably effective in improving safety on our nation's highways, providing for the health of truck drivers and assuring the efficient transport of our nation's goods."
Although the hours-of-service rules apply only to interstate commerce, FMCSA points out that most states have adopted intrastate regulations that are identical to the federal hours-of-service regulations.
As in 2003, the new rules apply only to property-carrying commercial drivers and not to passenger-carrying motor coach operators. Motor coach drivers and operators are governed by separate hours-of-service rules in 49 CFR Part 395.5. (Hours-of-service rules for property-carrying vehicles are in 49 CFR Part 395.3.)
Details on the new rules are available on FMCSA's Web site at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulations/topics/hos/HOS-2005.htm.