Innovator of the Year: Safely preserving productivity

Key executives involved in Dart Transit’s efforts to gain driver flexibility include (left to right) Dan Oren, vice president; David Oren, president; and Gary Volkman, vice president of safety and compliance.

For Dart Transit Co., leading the trucking industry is nothing new. Not long after Earl Oren founded the company in 1934, Dart began pushing the envelope on trailer capacity. Indeed, members of the Oren family hold several patents on trailer designs.

As standard trailer lengths grew, the Orens went a bit further than others – 35-foot trailers when 32 feet was standard and 42 feet in response to a 40-foot standard, for example. Dart Chairman Donald Oren, Earl’s son, recalls lobbying for 53 feet when the standard was 48 feet.

“I went from state to state with my 48-inch ruler that had a 5-inch extension,” Oren says. He tried to show that adding five feet at the back of the trailer without changing the wheelbase would allow for more capacity without a significant change in the turn radius. And when 102 inches became established in law as the maximum width, Donald and his son David – now Dart’s president – worked with Wabash to develop a plate trailer with walls thin enough to allow pinwheeling of can pallets, providing 13 percent more capacity in a 53-foot trailer.

“I’m extremely proud of our efforts to get longer trailers,” Donald Oren says, adding that allowing nine trailers to handle the freight that once required 10 trailers contributes significantly to reduced traffic congestion and increased safety.

While political realities and other considerations may have ended the era of ever-larger trailers, Dart Transit is leading the industry in other ways – including one initiative that bears a greater connection to high-cube trailer designs than you might think.

In June 2007, Dart asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to exempt 200 of its owner-operators from the 14-hour clock and the split-rest limitations of the hours-of-service rules – provided they abide by a comprehensive fatigue risk management system, including use of electronic onboard recorders and a requirement that drivers receive at least six consecutive hours of sleep between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. FMCSA sought comments on the proposal late last year and now has the request under review.

So what’s the connection between increasing trailer capacity and obtaining greater flexibility relief from some aspects of the hours-of-service regulations? As with past efforts with trailers, Dart’s exemption request would help increase highway capacity, Donald Oren says. Allowing drivers the ability to avoid rush-hour traffic in congested areas without being penalized with lost driving time could help lessen gridlock in major metropolitan areas.

FMCSA has yet to act on Dart’s petition, so it’s not clear that the Eagan, Minn.-based truckload carrier ultimately will be allowed to proceed. Regardless, Dart’s initiative and willingness to test whether carriers could increase productivity, reduce congestion and preserve safety are why it is CCJ’s Innovator of the Year.

Early efforts
Dart’s management has long seen that in some situations there’s a conflict between what the hours-of-service rules dictate and what makes sense. For example, a driver choosing to take a break to avoid congested freeways in Chicago might be making the wise decision from a safety and fatigue standpoint – but the 14-hour clock ticks away, discouraging the driver from doing so.

“The hours-of-service regulations have taken away too much flexibility from the driver to manage his own day,” David Oren says. Vice President Dan Oren, who is David’s brother, recalls one driver the company had to counsel due to log violations. “But everything he did was safer than what he should have done to comply with the rules,” he says. “He wasn’t legal, but he did exactly what the motoring public should want him to do.” Of course, given regulatory and tort liability, trucking companies have little choice but to remain legal even when doing so isn’t the most practical or even the safest course of action.

The carrier’s active interest in fatigue management dates back to early this decade when Donald Oren learned about research into the issue by Dr. William Dement at Stanford University. A handful of Dart’s independent contractors agreed to participate in training at the university’s Sleep Disorders Clinic and Research Center, where they learned about biological clocks and how to manage their work and sleep patterns to minimize fatigue. “It had a huge impact on the independent contractors that went through it,” says Gary Volkman, vice president of safety and compliance.

Dart planned in 2001 to seek an exemption that would have allowed a small number of independent contractors to use fatigue management techniques and technologies in place of the hours-of-service rules. But ultimately the plan just seemed unworkable.

“It just kind of died because we were struggling with some sort of device to measure fatigue, but they all fell short and were expensive,” Donald Oren says.

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

Nor was the approach very practical, Dan Oren adds. “We would have had to put something on the driver that monitored him 24 hours a day.”

After another attempt at a broader industry effort fizzled a few years later, Dart’s management once again began looking seriously at an alternate approach following FMCSA’s decision to restrict split rest, effective October 2005. Those restrictions compounded the impediments to driver flexibility that came with the 14-hour window, which was implemented in 2004, David Oren says. Drivers were finding it even harder to adopt common-sense trip planning than in the past.

Moving forward
Volkman and Dan Oren began looking for alternatives in early 2006. One of Dart’s consultants, FleetRisk Advisors, referred them to Lafayette, La.-based Dupre Transport, which had implemented a fatigue management system for its drivers. (See “Innovators,” July 2005.) Volkman and Dan Oren visited Dupre and met with Al LaCombe, Dupre’s director of safety.

“We came away with an understanding that you can develop systems to help drivers get rest,” Volkman says. He notes that Dupre was able to develop a system that worked even in a three-shift local operation. “Dupre has a much more challenging environment,” Dan Oren adds. He came away from the meeting with the belief that it should be easier to implement a fatigue management system for Dart’s over-the-road environment than it was for Dupre’s slip-seat local operation. But Dan also recognized that a successful system would have numerous elements. “There was no silver bullet,” he says.

In developing its fatigue management program, Dupre had been the first trucking company to work with Circadian Technologies, a consulting firm that had helped implement fatigue mitigation programs for other industries. Soon after the visit with Dupre, Volkman and Dan Oren began meeting with Dr. Martin Moore-Ede of Circadian Technologies in an effort to develop a fatigue risk management system for Dart.

The team that developed the proposal now under FMCSA consideration included several departments – such as information technology, operations and legal – in addition to safety and compliance. For example, operations under the leadership of Gary Randall, vice president of operations, helped analyze the options to determine whether the proposed regime, if implemented systemwide, would prevent Dart from serving any customers. In fact, the carrier found that a very small portion of its customer base would be negatively affected, but it chose to move forward with the pilot anyway.

One of the key elements of Dart’s proposal is the carrier’s willingness to use electronic onboard recorders for the independent contractor drivers who volunteer for the pilot program. “The decision to use EOBRs was really based on the idea that the government likes them,” Volkman says. David Oren also notes that the EOBRs will supply the data needed for the Circadian Technologies fatigue management software that Dart will use to assess participating drivers’ sleep scores.

Volkman believes one of the most important aspects of Dart’s proposed program is education and training on fatigue and the value of obtaining sleep at night. Whether the driver is operating under today’s regulations or under the pilot program, he must understand fatigue and respond to it. “We will never know if the driver actually slept.”

That sense of personal responsibility lies at the core of Dart’s culture, Donald Oren says. The heart of Dart’s safety program is ensuring that the driver understands that protecting the public is the right thing to do, he says. “We teach the safety people that if they don’t believe they can get people to change their behavior, they don’t belong in the safety department.”

Key elements of Dart’s proposal

  • 200 independent contractor drivers (out of about 2,350 total)
  • Screening of each exempt driver to exclude risks of untreated sleep disorders
  • Education for each exempt operator and their respective fleet managers on fatigue and sleep
  • Two-year exemption from the limit on driving to a window of 14 consecutive hours and from split-sleep limitations (10 hours minimum daily rest, maximum 14 hours on duty per 24 hours, 11 hours driving per day and 70 hours per 8 days still would apply)
  • Electronic onboard recorders to monitor hours-of-service records
  • Documentation of a minimum of 6 hours continuous rest between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. each 24-hour period
  • Daily analysis of driver fatigue risk using Circadian Technologies fatigue risk software
  • Daily delivery of fatigue risk scores to fleet managers and to participating drivers, with instructions on how to improve scores
  • Regular assessment of progress in improving fatigue risk scores
  • Maintenance of safety records to ensure safety is maintained or improved
  • Monthly reporting of fatigue risk management and safety performance to FMCSA

Dart wins industry support Proposal drew one major opponent
Given the intense focus on the hours-of-service issue, it’s perhaps surprising that only one of the major safety advocacy organizations is opposing Dart Transit Co.’s request for an exemption from certain portions of the hours rules. In a lengthy filing in January, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety voiced its strong opposition to Dart’s request, arguing that it must be denied because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration repeatedly has affirmed the need for a regime that ensures drivers have an opportunity to obtain eight consecutive hours of sleep each shift.

Dart filed a point-by-point rebuttal to the Advocates comments. The carrier argued, for example, that its proposal for minimum nocturnal rest achieves FMCSA’s goals better than a 10-hour rest period that often would occur during the day. Dart further pointed out that the Advocates itself has acknowledged that attempts to obtain sleep during the daytime typically leads both to shorter duration of sleep and poorer quality of sleep. Dart further pointed out that the whole point of an exemption is to test whether an alternate approach could be just as safe. So a departure from a premise of the regulation isn’t a basis for denying an exemption.

Dart’s request met with far kinder comments from the trucking industry. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said FMCSA likely “will gain additional empirical knowledge about the safety benefit inherent in giving drivers more flexibility within the current hours-of-service regulations.” The American Trucking Associations said Dart’s application serves “to clearly point out the difficulty for some drivers and motor carriers to operationally implement the current, inflexible sleeper berth provision.” And the Truckload Carriers Association said it was “encouraged by what should be viewed as an innovative approach to current regulations.”

For all the comments on Dart’s exemption application, visit and search FMCSA-2007-0056.