The day we reported on the successful rollback of the hours of service rule, President Obama signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 into law. With the passage of this bill, two crucial pieces of the hours of service rule were suspended:
- The rule that a driver’s 34-hour restart include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. rest periods.
- The once-per-week limit of the restart.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must now produce a Federal Register notice to alert drivers, carriers and other industry parties. While this will take time as it works its way through the bureaucratic layers, it effectively means that operators are no longer required to abide by the provisions put in place July, 2013.
The hours of service rule has been effectively suspended through a stay of enforcement. While the bill does not explicitly remove the provision, it compels federal agencies to cease enforcing it.
Though it won’t be enforced, this doesn’t mean that the hours of service rule is done forever. The FMCSA will be required to research whether the original rule provides “a greater net benefit for the operational safety, health and fatigue impacts” they are purported to cause.
The law compels the FMCSA to study two separate groups of drivers and stipulates that each be large enough to produce statistically significant results. The two groups will be separated using the following criteria:
- Group one will operate under the pre-2013 provision, which basically means they won’t adhere to the early morning rest period or once a week limit.
- Group two will operate under the post-2013 provision. This group will be strictly adhering to the two rest periods and restart limit.
The agency will be following these groups for five months. At the end of five months they will compare the two groups based on “safety critical events.” These types of events are described as crashes and overall fatigue levels of the drivers in question.
Considering prior industry concerns regarding the sampling size used in FMCSA studies, the new law stipulates that drivers used in the study employ a diverse array of applications and come from a wide range of fleet sizes.
The law mandates that drivers’ fatigue levels are studied using Psychomotor Vigilance Tests, actigraph watches and cameras. If the device or application in question doesn’t fall under one of these categories it must at least be an “on-board monitoring system that records or measures safety critical events like driver alertness,” according to the specific text of the law.
What Happens Now
Once the data has been compiled, the FMCSA will be required to produce a final report that will be sent to a review panel consisting of “individuals with relevant medical and scientific expertise.”
The agency will be overseen by the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Office of the Inspector General throughout the entire data gathering and analysis process.
The DOT will be ensuring that qualified professionals are involved with each step of the review process. Within 60 days the FMCSA must submit an initial report explaining how it plans to proceed with the study.
The DOT then has 30 days to report back to the agency and alert congress of its findings. The FMCSA is then required to provide a final report within 210 days of receiving the DOT’s recommendation.
Once the OIG reviews the report it will have 60 days to tell both the agency and congress what it’s found, based on the research. This information will be made publicly available through house and senate subcommittees and online.
The final question will be whether or not the results of the research end up validating the hours of service rule. As the results are released we will report on them. Stay tuned!