Remember back in January 2016 when a FMCSA acting administrator Scott Darling appeared before the Senate’s commerce committee regarding the 2014-instituted 34-hour restart study? Well, the 34-hour restart rule is now back in the news.
The senate recently passed a bill clarifying the 34-hour restart rule, but here’s the detail on the original story.
A year ago, Congress inadvertently put the 34-hour restart rule on the chopping block, but recently unveiled new legislation designed to address the original problem. As recently as last week lawmakers are meeting to clarify the rule governing trucker’s use of the rule.
The Present Situation
For now, professional truck drivers can continue operating as normal, with normal being that truckers do not have to include two rest periods at 1:00am and 5:00am. Also, the 34-hour restart rule can be utilized by truck drivers as many times as they would like without restriction.
But now, with a new study on the horizon, could this all change? A pending study by the FMCSA is once again putting a spotlight on two early morning rest periods for truck drivers. They would also limit the 34-hour restart limit to once per week, rather than as many times as desired.
The study currently under review will conclusively determine whether the rules would be safer with these proposed changes. The study was originally requested by Congress to clarify the rule.
Still, Congress managed to include clarifying language in a 2017 Continuing Resolution government funding bill. This hours of service clarification appears to be the only trucking-related item in the spending bill, and the bill is expected to pass both chambers of Congress.
Even as Congress takes these actions, the FMCSA is still amid the study, having recently stated that they have completed the data gathering phase. Although the agency still has not said when they will release their final rule, it appears they are getting closer.
Whether the Hours of Service rule reverts to the pre-2014 regulation depends on whether or not the FMCSA’s study finds that truckers are abiding by the rules. Their specific verbiage states that the agency needs to see truck drivers “demonstrate statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules, in comparison to…drivers who operated on the restart provisions in effect June 30, 2013.”
Essentially, the FMCSA wants to know if safety numbers are vastly different depending on which hours of service rule the truck drivers in the study operated under. The study followed hundreds of truck drivers as they operated within several different work schedules and conditions.
The original Congressional intent two years ago, when lawmakers rolled back the 2013 rules was to put the study in place. The problem is that lawmakers never clarified which specific provisions would be left or removed based on the study’s outcome.
Then, trying to fix the problem, Congress put language into a bill to rectify the hours of service problem, but that language had unintended consequences, essentially cutting the 34-hour restart option completely, depending on what they find.
With the new legislation, the original 2014 rule stays in place and the problem with the 2015 bill was fixed. Now the question is: What next?
With a new administration taking shape and a unified Republican government, what’s next for these rules? As the trucking industry holds its breath, everyone waits for what’s to come. At least for now, truckers across the country seem to have some consistency in rules regarding their work. How long that will last, however, is anybody’s guess.