Comment period extended on Dart’s hours-of-service exemption

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the comment period on Dart Transit Co.’s application for an exemption from two hours-of-service provisions until Jan. 25.

Dart is seeking a two-year exemption so that 200 of its owner-operators can operate under a fatigue risk management system that encourages quality nighttime sleep and uses electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to monitor drivers’ rest schedules.

In announcing the extension for the public comment period Wednesday, Dec. 26, FMCSA said the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety requested the extension because the issues involved required additional time to evaluate.

In June, the Eagan, Minn.-based truckload carrier filed a petition to exempt 200 drivers from the 14-hour clock as well as the split-rest limitations adopted in 2005 – 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.

The purpose of Dart’s request is to implement “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.”

Dart argues that the 14-hour rule 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. And 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, Dart says.

Under Dart’s plan, the 200 owner-operators would be exempt only from the 14-hour clock and the split-rest limits. 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.

A big focus of Dart’s plan is nighttime, or nocturnal, sleep, which studies have shown to be preferable. The company would use EOBRs and wireless communications to ensure that each 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. In addition, Dart would use software from Circadian Technologies to analyze driver fatigue risk on a daily basis. Exempt drivers and their fleet managers would get these scores, along with instructions on how to improve them, such as temporary reductions in workload.

If FMCSA authorizes the exemption, Dart would take applications from owner-operators and conduct health screenings on applicants to exclude those at risk of untreated sleep disorders. The company also would provide education and training on fatigue and sleep to the participants and their fleet managers.

To view public comments regarding Dart’s proposed exemption, a copy of the notice, Dart’s application and other documents, go to www.regulations.gov and search FMCSA-2007-0056.