Innovators: Aiming for reform

Dart Transit sought government approval for a plan to test whether its drivers could operate safely and with less fatigue under a more flexible work schedule and a comprehensive fatigue risk management program.

Many trucking executives complain about the federal hours-of-service regulations. Dart Transit is doing something about them.

In June, the Eagan, Minn.- based truckload carrier asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to exempt 200 of its owner-operators from the rules’ 14-hour clock and split-rest limitations – provided they abide by a comprehensive fatigue risk management system that Dart would implement. On Nov. 26, FMCSA published a notice of the exemption request in the Federal Register, seeking comment by Dec. 26. (For a copy of the notice, Dart’s application and other documents, go to and search FMCSA-2007-0056.)

“The purpose of this is to reduce driver fatigue by implementing a scientifically validated, risk-informed, performance-based fatigue risk management system,” says Gary Volkman, Dart’s vice president of safety and compliance. Dart believes the program will increase safety; improve the health, lifestyle and retention of drivers; and improve customer service. “What we want is a rested driver behind the wheel,” Volkman says. “But we want a little more flexibility around when he gets that rest.”

At the heart of Dart’s request is a fatigue risk assessment of its operations conducted earlier this year showing that the 14-hour clock and the 2005 changes in split-sleep rules have interfered with drivers’ ability to obtain quality nocturnal, or nighttime, sleep. For further support, Volkman cites a study released this year by the American Trucking Associations and sleep research firm Circadian Technologies.

The requirement to stop driving after the 14th hour often penalizes drivers who stop to take a nap or sleep for less than eight hours – even when this opportunity occurs at night and is sensible for reducing fatigue, Dart argues. And Dart believes the requirement that split rest be taken in blocks of at least eight hours and two hours encourages drivers who have been on duty at night to try to obtain all or most of their sleep during the daytime hours when they are least likely to obtain sleep that is of good quality or long duration.

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As just one example of the unintended consequences, Volkman points out that drivers who are approaching a major metropolitan area during rush hour might be better off taking a break for a few hours, continuing on and completing their rest that night. But under current regulations, stopping could mean running out of hours before the driver can continue, so drivers just keep moving through stressful congestion.

The plan is for 200 of Dart’s approximately 2,350 leased owner-operators – the company employs another 350 company drivers – to operate for two years exempt from the 14-hour clock and the split-sleep limitations. All other hours-of-service rules – 10 hours minimum daily rest, maximum 14 hours on duty per 24 hours, 11 hours driving per day and 70 hours per 8 days – would still apply.

In lieu of the 14-hour clock and split-rest limits, Dart proposes what it calls the most comprehensive fatigue risk management system in the trucking industry. For starters, each exempt driver would use an electronic onboard recorder (EOBR). Because the linchpin of Dart’s plan is quality nocturnal sleep, the company would monitor EOBR and satellite tracking data to ensure the driver’s truck is not moving for a minimum of six consecutive hours sometime during the period of 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. each night.

Each day, Dart would analyze driver fatigue risk using software from Circadian Technologies. Fleet managers would receive daily fatigue risk scores on exempt drivers. Exempt drivers also would get the scores through their in-cab communications, along with instructions on how to improve them. For example, drivers who need to improve their fatigue risk scores might see reduced dispatches until their fleet managers see improvement, Volkman says.

Owner-operators’ participation in the program would be voluntary and based on an application process Dart will implement if it wins FMCSA approval, Volkman says. The company will conduct health screenings on applicants to exclude those at risk of untreated sleep disorders. Owner-operators selected for the program, as well as their fleet managers, would receive education upfront on fatigue and sleep.

Ultimately, the goal most important to FMCSA is that the operations under the exemption would be as safe as – or safer than – operations conducted under the full hours-of-service regulations. That’s the case Dart is trying to make, of course. To determine whether that’s the reality, Dart would compare the safety performance of its exempt operators during the two-year period with those of the rest of its driver pool.

Longtime interest
Dart’s exemption application isn’t a total surprise. The company has been an advocate of fatigue management and greater schedule flexibility for some time.

About five years ago, Dart got as far as drafting a similar exemption application it never submitted. The company had met with Dr. William Dement of Stanford University on a program. In the end, however, Dart concluded that the particular approach contemplated would have been too expensive.

“There’s not a lot of margin in trucking to pay for research and development,” Volkman says.

More recently, Dart was one of several carriers that tried to put together a consortium to conduct a program similar to what Dart is now proposing. That effort never really took off, however.

In a way, the foundation for what Dart is pursuing now was laid by another innovator, Lafayette, La.-based Dupré Transport, which was the first trucking company to work with Circadian Technologies on a fatigue management system (See “Innovators,” CCJ, July 2005). Through Circadian’s work with Dupré, the firm validated a fatigue management model for truck drivers.

In June 2006, Volkman and Dart Vice President Dan Oren visited Dupré Transport to discuss that carrier’s experience with fatigue management. And in August of that year, Volkman and others began meeting with Dr. Martin Moore-Ede of Circadian Technologies, eventually developing the plan Dart presented to FMCSA in June.

Dart’s latest move is simply another in a long line of advances spurred by the company since Earl Oren started the business in 1934. Dart was an early adopter of computers, allowing it to offer on-demand settlements to independent contractors. And Dart led the way in trailer design and capacity for decades.

But why is it that Dart – of all the thousands of carriers on the road – is the one to step up with a proposal to challenge the current rules? “It’s because we’re willing to put our money where our mouths are,” Volkman suggests. “The Orens have been innovators in this industry for a long time.”

Innovators profiles carriers and fleets that have found innovative ways to overcome trucking’s challenges.

If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at [email protected] or (800) 633-5953.