Restart research to be largest ever real-world driver study, VTTI says

For what is being called the largest truck driver study of its kind, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has been selected to take a new look at the real-world impacts of restart breaks on commercial truck drivers’ safety performance and fatigue levels.

As reported in American Trucker last month, a recent federal spending bill suspended two provisions of the current hours of service (HOS) rules, pending a completion driver restart study. Supporters in Congress argued that the restart requirement adopted in 2013 disrupts some drivers’ sleep routines and puts more trucks on the road during the morning rush hour, and that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had little evidence to support the need for such a requirement.

In the $4 million study, the institute’s Center for Truck and Bus Safety will track and compare truck driver fatigue and safety performance levels for drivers who take two nighttime rest periods during their 34-hour restart break, as under the 2013 rule, and for drivers who take less than two nighttime rest periods during their restart break.

The center has assembled a “world-class team” to perform “ground-breaking research that will have impact for decades to come,” says Richard Hanowski, director of the safety center.

Researchers will recruit an estimated 250 truck drivers for the on-road study. The team will compare five-month work schedules of drivers, assessing crashes, near-crashes, crash-relevant conflicts, operator fatigue/alertness, and short-term health outcomes for the two groups of commercial truck drivers.

Drivers are being recruited from small, medium, and large fleets across a variety of operations – long-haul, short-haul, and regional – to help ensure statistically significant results. The research plan also involves including a variety of haul types in the study, including flat-bed, refrigerated, tanker, and dry-van trailers.

The center has previously spearheaded studies about hours of service regulations for FMCSA, and Hanowski noted this will be the largest study of its kind ever performed using commercial vehicle drivers.

The team will track driver road-time and resting/sleeping statuses via onboard truck electronic logging devices, which track a driver’s on-duty time and record and measure safety-critical events, according to the FMCSA mandate. The team also will measure and code fatigue levels of drivers using high-tech watches that are worn on the wrist.

The study findings will ultimately be delivered to the U.S. Department of Transportation and Congress.

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