Peterbuilt Donates Truck To Virginia Tech; Study Of Longhaul-Drivers' Sleep Quality, Performance Underway

September 15, 1998

(Blacksburg, VA, Sept. 15, 1998) -- The Virginia Tech Center for Transportation Research (CTR) has a new Peterbilt long-haul truck and will soon be recruiting drivers for a national research project.

Center director Tom Dingus reports that the PACCAR, Inc. Technical Center in Mt. Vernon, Washington, has given the Virginia Tech Center for Transportation Research a Peterbilt Model 379 long-haul/sleeper-cab tractor in exchange for a portable data collection system, and for developing human factors specifications for displaying information to drivers.

Virginia Tech transportation researchers with the center will develop hardware and software for a portable data collection system that records such information as steering wheel position, accelerator pedal position, brake pedal position, and lateral and longitudinal acceleration. Up to four video cameras and two microphones feed data to a suitcase-size unit that can be moved from vehicle to vehicle as needed. Andy Petersen of the CTR's hardware engineering lab will install the cameras and microphones in the PACCAR test vehicle.

In addition, the Virginia Tech CTR will develop human-computer interaction specifications for an in-vehicle information system designed specifically for heavy trucks. University researchers will evaluate a system that displays information to the truck driver. In addition to the fuel and speed gauges one expects, systems being tested will display other kinds of information to drivers, such as automated messages and warning systems, object detection information, and vehicle management functions.

The Center for Transportation Research will use the new truck immediately for a national Sleeper Berth Sleep Quality study. Vicki Neale, research scientist at the center, will use the Peterbilt, as well as a truck previously donated by Volvo/GM, in her study of sleeper berths and driver fatigue. The research, funded by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will determine the effects of sleeper berth use on long-haul drivers' alertness and driving performance; assess the quality of rest achieved while vehicles are parked and in motion; and evaluate the effects of irregular schedules and sleeper berth use patterns on driver alertness and performance. "We are interested in evaluating factors that impact the quality and quantity of sleep," Neale explains.

Ten national focus groups were held last year with long-haul drivers in eight cities. The groups included men and women, union and nonunion drivers, young and old drivers, and owner-operators and company drivers. "We asked them how they use their truck and its sleeper, and what impacted sleep and fatigue. Better thermal insulation and noise insulation were frequent recommendations -- particularly noise barriers between the cab and the sleeper," Neale says.

Drivers also talked about dispatcher issues and what they did at the terminals, such as whether they loaded or unloaded the trucks themselves and how long they had to wait to unload," explains Neale.

But schedules and team driving-issues are the focus of the FHWA research. "It was interesting to talk to drivers who loved team driving -- such as husband and wife teams, and to drivers who drove solo because they didn't like team driving," she says.

"The perception is that team driving is unsafe because drivers are on the road longer -- but that is not the case," Neale says.

The FHWA is interested in single versus team schedules, she says. The "hours of service regulations" now say a driver has to take an eight-hour break after 10 hours of driving. "So, the regulations dictate an 18-hour period, but the body is on a 24-hour schedule," says Neale. "Some drivers say, 'let me drive when I can,' while others say that eight hours off is not enough because the time has to be used for activities other than sleep, such as eating, going from one place to another, and personal and business concerns."

She explains that the FHWA wants to develop regulations that accommodate individual differences and needs.

The Virginia Tech researchers are recruiting owner operators and small company drivers to drive the transportation research center's trucks. "Beginning in December, we will have runs of different lengths, from three to 12 days, and they will be pulling a load that has to be delivered," Neale explains.

The drivers will keep a log of their sleep quality and quantity, when they go to the berth, and when they get up. It will be compared to the driver's performance, which will be recorded using the CTR system that looks at steering, lane tracking, lateral and longitudinal movement, and how long before drivers need a rest break. The data collection system consists of cameras around the truck, cab, and sleeper that record continuously at low frames per minute until a performance variable exceeds a particular parameter, at which point, cameras begin to record in real time. An example might be a rapid steering reversal, a hard breaking maneuver, or an unplanned lane deviation.

The study will conclude in August 2000. The Center for Transportation Research is a multidisciplinary, university research center of Virginia Tech. A FHWA Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Research Center of Excellence and a Mid-Atlantic University Transportation Center, the CTR conducts basic and applied research and education.
Contact for additional information:
Dr. Vicki L. Neale at or +1 540-231-5578
Information about the CTR is on the Web at
Photos of the truck are available from the Virginia Tech Photo Lab Contact Jane or Rick at +1 540-231-7317 or 231-6993 or
High resolution (AP Standard) scans are available at Fetch address:

Virginia Tech

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