On July 1, 2013, the trucking industry saw an overhaul of the hours of service regulations. The new regulations required a 34-hour restart provision once every 168 hours; a driver using the 34-hour restart provision is required to have as part of the restart two periods that include the 1–5 a.m. time period. The overhaul was premised on increasing driver safety as well as the safety of all those on America's roadways. As expected, the overhaul was not without controversy. Many within the industry opposed the 1–5 a.m. and the once per week restart requirement on the basis that there was no proven correlation between these provisions and increased safety.
In December 2014 industry stakeholders successfully lobbied Congress to suspend enforcement of the 1–5 a.m. off-duty requirement and the once per week limitation on the use of the restart pending a study by FMCSA to determine whether these regulations, in fact, increased safety. During the study period, the industry could operate under the simple restart rules in effect prior to July 1, 2013.
FMCSA announced on October 1, 2015 that it concluded the data collection phase of the required study period; FMCSA then begun the data analysis phase and stated that it hoped to produce a report by the end of 2015. In late 2015, and before the FMCSA study was complete, industry stakeholders again lobbied Congress to require additional study criteria that, arguably, increased the likelihood that the FMCSA would not be able to demonstrate any tangible safety benefit to the new rule (i.e., demonstrate significant driver safety and health benefits). These additional criteria were included in the fiscal 2016 omnibus funding bill and signed into law by President Obama in December 2015. However, this legislation contained an unintended consequence; it omitted language directing FMCSA to return to the 2003 hours of service rules if the FMCSA's study could not prove the 2013 rule would lead to tangible safety benefits. In other words, it removed the 34-hour restart from the FMCSRs.
It is worth noting that the daily work rules of 11 driver hours, 14 on-duty hours, 10 off-duty hours, and the 30-minute rest break are not affected by the language in the fiscal 2016 omnibus funding bill.
Since this omission came to light, FMCSA and industry stakeholders have been in discussions as to how to address the situation. FMCSA has not released the results of its study; however, since it is negotiating with industry stakeholders, one can surmise that the results of the FMCSA do not demonstrate a tangible safety benefit.
Where does that leave the industry? The current thought is that the FMCSA and industry stakeholders will reach an agreement regarding the hours of service rules. Alternatively, Congress may attempt to correct this oversight through additional legislation. If such an agreement cannot be reached or the legislation amended, the FMCSA may play its trump card and revert to the hours of service rules that were in effect prior to 2003. Under this scenario, drivers will be required to return to performing the "rolling recap" of 60 hours in 7 days / 70 hours in 8 days without the ability of a driver to reset their weekly clocks following a 34-hour rest period.
The respective parties are currently engaged in discussions to attempt to resolve this issue, but the potential outcome remains unclear. There was initial speculation that a proposed fix would be found by attaching an amendment to a FAA funding extension bill; however, on March 10th, the House of Representative's Transportation Committee released that legislation with no amendments attached. Industry stakeholders are reportedly aggressively pursuing alternative legislative options to reinsert the missing language from the 2016 funding bill back into federal law. While a solution may be in the works, it will clearly take longer than initially thought. Stay tuned.
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