Congress’ 11th hour Hail Mary pass to avoid a government shutdown not only kept Uncle Sam’s doors open, but also successfully rolled back the hours of service regulation for truck drivers.
As we reported last week, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine had inserted language into the government spending bill to suspend the requirement that a driver’s 34-hour restart include two early morning rest periods. It was debatable at the time whether or not the spending bill would pass, but in an effort to avoid a government shutdown, congress eked it through and actually got something done.
For the past 18 months the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) have been lobbying congress hard to change the hours of service rule. They argued that it had the unintended effect of ensuring the bulk of truck drivers were on the road during the most congested times.
In a statement ATA President and CEO Bill Graves stated that “we have known since the beginning that the federal government did not properly evaluate the potential impacts of the changes it made in July 2013. Now, thanks to the hard work of Senator Collins and many others, we have a common sense solution. Suspending these restrictions until all the proper research can be done is a reasonable step.”
Graves went on to highlight statistics that show the average drivers works a little more than 50 hours per week and only 2 percent work more than 61 hours. Additionally, he stated that “before the rule change in 2013, large truck-involved crashes fell 27 percent over ten years.”
The OOIDA similarly released a statement saying that “small business truckers know from personal experience that current restart restrictions compromise safety by forcing them onto the roads during the most congested and dangerous hours of morning traffic… our members thank Senator Collins for her commitment to safety and tenacity in fighting for sound policy.
Even trucking research firm FTR Associates released an estimate just before the bill passed saying that they believe there will be a 2 percent jump in productivity if the hours of service rule is suspended.
What Happens Now?
Once President Obama signs the spending bill, it will mean that carriers and drivers around the country will have to make immediate adjustments to stay in compliance. One thing they can expect is a large variation in levels of enforcement nationwide.
Steve Keppler, head of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance stated that “people can’t just turn on a dime when something like this takes place.” As usual, the bipolar nature of congress is creating a new kind of headache for industry.
Since state representatives enforce state law alongside federal law, the reversal of an original rule will cause widespread adoption disparities, as Keppler goes on to explain in saying “we’re likely to see inconsistency and uniformity issues for a while – that’s got implications for data quality and CSA.”
Back in November we outlined how the electronic logging device debate was heating up. Expect that topic to now come back into focus as current e-log applications programmed for 2013 rules end up flagging drivers for violation if their restart period doesn’t match the current, and soon to be suspended, hours of service rules.
Beyond potential device re calibrations, the new law will require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) to perform a “naturalistic study” of the restart rule to properly determine what kind of real world impacts it will have on carrier operations. According to the language in the bill the study must be overseen by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) inspector general.
The law specifically states that the two rules in question will not go back into effect until the FMCSA completes the aforementioned study and can prove to congress that the rules “provide a greater net benefit for the operation, safety, health and fatigue impacts” on drivers.
Though the shifting political winds provide little permanent comfort to the industry, the results of Washington’s latest battle will have a lasting impact on the trucking industry.
The provision in this year’s spending bill will only last unto the next. Will the desire of congress remain same twelve months from now? Stay tuned.