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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 12 

Virginia Tech Transportation Institute wins $2.5 million contract for trucker safety study

December 15, 2015

A man sits in the cab of a semi tractor trailer.
David Mellichamp, electronics tech supervisor for the Center for Technology Development at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drives an instrumented tractor trailer along Virginia's Smart Road in Blacksburg.

BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech, along with subcontractors from Washington State University and SmartDrive, won a $2.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to study a flexible hours-of-service safety provision that will allow long-haul truck drivers to split their required sleeper berth time into shorter periods.

Commercial truck drivers are currently required by federal safety regulations to log at least 10 consecutive off-duty hours before returning to on-duty status. Large trucks equipped with a sleeper berth in the rear of the cab provide drivers the opportunity to remain in the vehicle during off-duty time and obtain sufficient recuperative rest to prevent fatigued driving.

“For some time now, sleeper berth drivers have called for flexibility with the hours-of-service requirements, and this study will provide the scientific foundation for FMCSA to understand what the safety benefits and impacts may be in allowing such flexibility,” said Rich Hanowski, director of the Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and principal investigator for the study. “This pilot project will produce scientific data necessary to further inform FMCSA about this important safety issue that potentially affects the well-being of everyone traveling on our nation’s roads.”

Researchers will seek to recruit at least 200 long-haul truck drivers who regularly use their sleeper berths, including drivers from large, medium, and small carriers; owner-operators; and team drivers. Using onboard video monitoring systems provided by SmartDrive, researchers will collect data about driver behavior. Information about drivers’ sleep patterns will also be collected using an activity monitor worn on the driver’s wrist. Collectively, the study will measure roadside violations, crashes and driver sleepiness.  

“This study will examine the safety impact of providing participating drivers the opportunity to use a ‘sleep when you are sleepy’ strategy to manage their individual fatigue,” said Kimberly Honn, a post-doctoral researcher from Washington State University. “They will still be required to comply with the overall federal hours-of-service safety requirements, but during the study they will be allowed to exercise a degree of flexibility in logging sleeper berth time.”

“Keeping drivers and the motoring public safe is the top priority for our industry,” said Steve Mitgang, chief executive officer of SmartDrive. “The onboard video monitoring system is uniquely capable of providing the insights required to understand the impact of flexible sleep schedules on driving. SmartDrive is proud that our advanced video analytics platform, proven over millions of driving miles, has been selected to support this important study.”

The Center for Truck and Bus Safety at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has conducted approximately $50 million in safety-related research since the center was founded in 2005. Several studies led by the center have helped shape transportation policy in the United States. 

  • A 2009 study conducted by the center found that commercial truck drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a safety-critical event while texting and driving, leading to the enactment of new regulations prohibiting distracted driving across the nation. 
  • This year, the center led the congressionally directed Commercial Motor Vehicle Hours of Service restart study
  • In 2014, the center won a contract from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with a ceiling of $30 million across a five-year period. Other center milestone projects include refining and testing safety technologies for commercial motor vehicles, as well as assessing drowsiness and distraction and developing appropriate countermeasures.

The Center for Truck and Bus Safety comprises three groups: the Behavioral Analysis and Applications Group, the Human Factors and Advanced System Testing Group, and the Safety and Human Factors Group. Outreach is an important part of the mission of the center, with researchers developing materials and training programs to help commercial truck and bus drivers improve their driving, health and safety awareness. The center has also developed driving tips for light-vehicle drivers sharing the road with larger vehicles.

Hanowski notes that the new sleeper berth study has received positive feedback, with several fleets expressing interest. Carriers that wish to find out more about the study are asked emailRebecca Hammond.

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