FMCSA to Study Wireless Roadside Inspections, Split Sleep

ARLINGTON, VA — Imagine a time when safety regulators can automatically gather the information they need about trucks, drivers and carriers without ever stopping a single vehicle.

That’s what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is testing with a wireless roadside inspection system, according to truckinginfo.

The inspection system would automatically collect information inspectors need about trucks, drivers and carriers as the truck is travelling on the highway.

The goal is to use commercial mobile radio service technology to do inspections as the truck passes at speed, so compliant carriers don’t have to stop, according to Chris Flanigan, manager of the wireless roadside inspection program at FMCSA.

The agency plans to study about 1,000 trucks on 2,400 miles of roads linking Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee by 2017.

In a recent web presentation, Flanigan explained that the field test will use a wireless inspection processing system to shuttle data between the truck, the roadside facility, federal and state databases and the carrier.

“The (processing system) will have to do heavy lifting,” he said. “It will have to show that the system can manage the volume of data and provide a benefit to compliant carriers.”

Flanigan described a 10-step sequence that will happen as a truck passes an inspection facility, starting with the processing system where the data transfers will be automatically triggered, called geofence locations. These locations are transmitted to an operations center, which forwards them to the commercial mobile radio service.

When the truck enters the fenced area, the system scoops up the relevant information, including driver credentials, hours of service and truck information, and sends it back to the operations center.

The operations center adds other data, such as carrier information it has retrieved from federal and state databases, and sends this safety data message to the processing system.

The system evaluates the information and sends the results back to the operations center, which forwards a message to the driver saying he or she may continue or must pull in for inspection. This information is also sent to roadside inspection officials and to FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, the central database of the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement system.

FMCSA is currently working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and choosing the radio services provider that will in turn find the 10 carriers to participate in the study.

This is the third phase of a 10-year effort to prove that the technology will work. The concept was successfully tested in 2007 and a pilot test using several trucks to iron out technology and communication issues was completed in 2011.

On FMCSA’s radar

The agency also announced at the Mid-America Trucking Show that it’s going ahead with a pilot study of split sleep, a provision of revised hours of service regulations.

FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro commented: “We’ve got a strong program out there but it’s a program that can always improve. We have an analysis from the GAO, that said we’re using too much data … and the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) did a scathing analysis and said we’re not using our data enough. We’re in a little bit of a Goldilocks situation.”

“Congress has mandated that we reduce commercial motor vehicle crashes, regardless of fault,” she said.

One of FMCSA’s recent changes that has drawn industry criticism is last year’s new hours of service regulations, particularly the changes to the 34-hour restart.

Ferro addressed criticisms that the changes requiring rest from one to five a.m. during the restart are harmful to drivers who regularly drive the night shift.

“Even a nighttime-scheduled driver tends to flip back to nighttime sleep when they’re off,” she said, adding that research has shown that daytime sleep is the least recuperative. Night sleep is best, and split sleep is in-between.

“Split sleep could be a better option for drivers overnight than what we have today,” she said.

That’s why the agency is “moving ahead with a pilot study of split sleep to see how [to] reintroduce some of that flexibility” that some in the industry lament losing under the latest HOS regulations.

The agency is working with the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies to craft a pilot study.

With files from Oliver Patton and Deborah Lockridge. 

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