Split sleeper pilot program’s future in question

March 3, 2021

Mark Schremmer

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The outlook of a proposed FMCSA pilot program to evaluate additional split sleeper options appears murky.

On Jan. 14, the previous administration issued a news release saying the agency planned to start a split sleeper pilot program that would acquire data on the use of split sleeper options of 6/4 and 5/5. At that time, a notice of the proposed pilot program was expected to be published in the Federal Register soon after. However, the notice didn’t make its way into the Federal Register before a new administration took over on Jan. 20, and the pilot program appears stalled.

The split sleeper pilot program news release can still be found on the FMCSA website (now dated Jan. 21), but the public can no longer access the link to the notice.

In response to a question about the status of the proposal from Land Line, an FMCSA spokesperson cited the Biden administration’s Jan. 20 “Regulatory Freeze Pending Review” memo.

“With respect to rules that have been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but not published in the Federal Register, immediately withdraw them from the OFR for review and approval … This withdrawal must be conducted consistent with OFR procedures,” the memo stated.

For rules that had been published in the Federal Register, the Regulatory Freeze memo directed agencies to postpone the rules’ effective dates pending a 60-day review.

The split sleeper pilot program was consistent with the previous administration’s push for finding ways to give truck drivers more flexibility within the hours-of-service rules. In September, a final rule went into effect that provided additional flexibility in four areas. Among the changes, the final rule allowed a split sleeper option of 7/3.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association had pushed for options of 6/4 and 5/5 to be included in the changes, but FMCSA decided not to move forward without data supporting the additional split.

The pilot program would give the agency an opportunity to acquire that data.

“FMCSA continues to explore ways to provide flexibility for drivers, while maintaining safety on our roadways,” FMCSA’s then-acting Administrator Wiley Deck said in the Jan. 14 news release. “This proposed pilot program will provide needed data and feedback for the agency to use now and in the future. Gathering more data on split-sleeper flexibility will benefit all commercial motor vehicle stakeholders.”

During Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s confirmation hearing on Jan. 21, he did not give a definitive answer when asked about the future of the split sleeper pilot program.

“I’d want to take a closer look at this and engage with stakeholders as well to make sure I understand how this pilot program squares the goals of worker and traveler safety with the goals of flexibility,” Buttigieg said. LL

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Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.