The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) just proposed a pilot program to evaluate the safety effects of allowing truck drivers to pause their daily driving window.

The “Split Duty Period Pilot Program” would allow participating drivers to pause their regular 14-hour on-duty period, one time, from 30 minutes to three hours. During that pause, drivers would be completely off-duty. After the drivers complete their work shift, they must take 10 consecutive hours off-duty. Cumulative maximums for seven/eight days of on-duty time would still apply.

In August 2019, FMCSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on hours of service (HOS) to provide greater flexibility to drivers. Allowing drivers to pause their work day was one of the FMCSA proposals. However, it did not appear in the HOS Final Rule, which will go into effect on Sept. 29, 2020.

FMCSA maintains the position that such a provision allows drivers to avoid rush hour traffic and operate more productively after the pause. The agency contends that safety could be enhanced by removing some trucks from heavy traffic, allowing drivers to rest during the congestion, and reducing the temptation to speed once out of traffic.

Commenters to the August 2019 proposal raised concerns that carriers, shippers or receivers would pressure drivers to use the break to cover detention time and not get additional rest or avoid traffic congestion. FMCSA is proposing the “Split Duty Period Pilot Program” to study exactly how the break time would be used and what the safety effects would be.

FMCSA would recruit 200 to 400 interstate drivers for the pilot program, over a period of up to three years. The drivers, including owner-operators, would only come from property-carrying carriers, representing all truck sizes, with safety records no worse than the national average. Driver eligibility would also include safety criteria. Participation by individual drivers would be limited from six months to one year.

During the study, FMCSA would collect data on driver schedules, sleep, safety-critical events (crashes, abrupt lane changes and hard braking), subjective sleepiness ratings, and behavioral alertness for at least 180 days per driver.

The data would be collected several ways:

  • Equipping each truck with a video-based onboard monitoring system.
  • Issuing a study smartphone with data collection apps to drivers who would wear a wrist senor to assess sleep/wake patterns.
  • Drivers completing daily psychomotor vigilance tests to evaluate behavioral alertness through reaction times.
  • Drivers reporting subjective sleep ratings using a standard sleepiness scale; sleep logs on when they sleep, wake up, and whether they used a sleeper berth; and “pause logs” documenting their reason for a break and what they did during the break.
  • Combining all of this data with a review of the drivers’ record of duty status (RODS), such as provided by an electronic logging device, and any roadside violation data.

To protect driver privacy, motor carriers would agree that all individual data, except RODS, would be kept confidential by the pilot program.

Comments on the proposal must be received on or before November 2, 2020.