In an announcement on May 15, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rejected a five-year exemption request from Illinois-based PTS Worldwide Inc. to split sleeper berth hours into 4/6, 5/5 or 6/4-hour segments rather than the prescribed 8/2 or 7/3 split which is required by the FMCSA.
PTS carries highly sensitive cargo such as ammunition and explosives for the U.S. Department of Defense. Its request was limited to team driver operations.
In an announcement, the agency said, “FMCSA analyzed the exemption application and public comments, and determined that the application lacked evidence that would ensure an equivalent level of safety or greater would be achieved absent such exemption.”
The FMCSA recently released an hours-of-service final rule that modified the split sleeper berth exception, settling on the 8/2, 7/3 split during the required 10-hour off-duty time frame. The split would not count against a driver’s 14-hour window for driving.
According to its research and data, the FMCSA believes that the longer sleeper berth period needs to be at least seven hours when all aspects of a driver’s time such as daily and weekly driving time limits and other factors mandated by hours-of-service remain unchanged.
PTS had hoped to split its team driver sleeper berth periods to obtain the required 10 hours in two segments with neither less than four hours. PTS indicated its drivers travel more than 1,100 miles per 24 hours, averaging 60 hours per week.
“PTS asserts that due to the nature of its business, these drivers would be more alert if allowed to take shorter rest periods in the sleeper berth,” the FMCSA announcement said. “It believes that the shorter period would allow PTS drivers to obtain nighttime hours in the sleeper berth and thereby minimize driver fatigue.”
PTS also claimed that its safety record is excellent and that it provides the best safety and service of any DOD sensitive cargo carrier. PTS referenced other studies showing that sleeper berth flexibility led to normalizing sleep patterns while cutting down on driver fatigue.
FMCSA received important comments from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and DOD sensitive cargo carrier Boyle Transportation. Boyle argued that FMCSA should conduct its originally scheduled pilot program (which had been scheduled for 2014 but was canceled) on the matter and examine data from the study to determine “the effects of various sleeper berth splits on driver fatigue.”
Boyle further argued that PTS has not provided data that would establish an acceptable level of safety if FMCSA were to grant them the exemption. They claim that such changes would be problematic “given the inherent danger of much of the material being transported and the unsafe conditions it would create for other professional drivers,” as well as all others involved in the process.