Hours-of-service changes loom: Bill clears Congress, heads toward implementation

big-road-elogTwo provisions of the 2013 changes to hours-of-service regulations for truck operators will be suspended at least until Sept. 30, 2015, and FMCSA will be required to further study the rules and their impact before the rules can take effect again.

The order comes from Congress: The Senate late Saturday night passed a spending bill already passed by the House that includes a provision to put a stay of enforcement on the federal rules (a) requiring a drivers’ 34-hour HOS restart to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. provisions and (b) limiting the use of a 34-hour restart to once per week.

President Barack Obama voiced his support for the bill last week and is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

The law dictates that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issue a notice in the Federal Register “as soon as possible” announcing the suspension of the rules in question, which will make the stay of enforcement official. Several attempts made by CCJ on Thursday and Friday to talk to a representative at FMCSA about when and how the agency will proceed were met with no response.

The law will also requires the agency to perform a “naturalistic study” of the restart rules to determine their impacts on safety, health and carrier operations. The study must be overseen and reviewed by the DOT’s Inspector General, and the bill dictates that the two rules suspended will not go back into effect until FMCSA completes the study and can show Congress that the rules “provide a greater net benefit for the operation, safety, health and fatigue impacts” than not. More on the bill’s study requirements will be posted on CCJ next week.

Congress unveiled its 1,600-page appropriations bill earlier this week, and it was billed as a bi-partisan agreement crafted by top brass from both chambers of Congress. However, prominent lawmakers from both political parties and from both chambers began voicing their unhappiness with some inclusions in the bill, making its passage uncertain at points.

Congress had to pass two stopgap spending bills to avoid a government shutdown and to give Congressional leaders more time to rally support for the bill. The House passed its version late Thursday, and the Senate — in an apparent nine-hour marathon voting session — passed its version late Saturday.