What About the Split Sleeper Berth?

By Wally Parke

On 10-1-2005 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations 49 CFR Part 395 hours-of-service changed in a way that has been debated heavily ever since.

The 2005 sleeper berth rule change was an update to the 2003 rule. The rules before 2005 stated drivers using a sleeper berth must take 10 hours off duty, but may split sleeper-berth time into two periods provided neither is less than 2 hours. The 2005 rule put in place the requirement that commercial motor vehicle drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two. The ability to split the 10 hours any way other than the 8 & 2 hours was done away with. So no more 6 &4, or 7 & 3 or 5 & 5 for example, to get the split.

Right away commercial motor vehicle drivers cried foul. Over the years claims have been made that the hours-of-service rules have taken away the flexibility needed by professional drivers to be properly rested and be as safe as they can be.

Which leads us then to the 14 hour rule. We can’t talk about the split sleeper without also noting the 14 hour rule in regard to reduced flexibility. The 14-hour rule states drivers may not drive past the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. So it wouldn’t matter if a driver had 7 hours off-duty or sleeper berth time during their trip on any given day, at the 14th hour they cannot drive again until they have a 10 consecutive hour break period. That is because the 7 hours will count as on-duty time as far as the 14 hour rule is concerned. And the 7 hour example used here is just a number, it would be the same if the driver had 5, 6, 7.5, anything less than 8 counts as on duty. The reason a driver may have an off-duty period like that might be they are at a customer and having to wait to get loaded or unloaded. That used to be able to be logged as productive rest time. But that “rest” time now goes without any benefit to the driver.

The downside then of decreased sleeper berth flexibility drivers say, is that they cannot sleep when they are tired. They state they are forced by the rules to continue to work when they may be tired, because at the 14th hour they cannot drive again until the completion of a 10 consecutive hour break. They will skip stopping at the rest area to take a break because that time now counts as on-duty time. If they had sleeper berth flexibility, as it used to be, they could take a 6 hour break and get sleep, drive for another period of time and then take 4 hours off for the split break equaling 10 hours. And then continue to drive again. Their day could be “stretched out” so to speak. As long as the two consecutive sleeper berths equaled 10 hours and the drive time on either side of the sleeper did not add up to more than 11 hours driving, a driver could get rest when needed and be able to meet schedules.

It seems there is a consensus among drivers for more sleeper berth flexibility. The one-size-fits-all approach is very problematic for the trucking industry as there as so many different types of operations as well as considering what works for one person may not work for another. Washington State University and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute will be working with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to conduct a pilot study to demonstrate how split-sleep could be used to improve driver rest and alertness. This Flexible Sleeper Berth Pilot Program, in conjunction with the North American Fatigue Management Program, has a goal of September 2016 to have a website and study protocol instruction materials in place.