Restart changes become law; FMCSA required to study, compare two driver sets

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Updated Dec 19, 2014

hours eveningPresident Barack Obama Dec. 16 signed the appropriations bill that halts enforcement of the requirement that a drivers’ 34-hour restart include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and the once-per-week limit of the restart.

Though the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is required by the law to produce a Federal Register notice to alert drivers, enforcers and other stakeholders of the change, the stay of enforcement is now legally in effect, meaning truck operators no longer have to abide by the restart provisions put in place in July 2013.

Aside from the suspension of the restart provisions, however, the law requires FMCSA to study the rules’ impacts on drivers, carriers and safety. The agency must present a report to Congress concluding the rules boost safety before the restart provisions can go back into effect.

So what, exactly, does Congress require of the study?

The ultimate result of the research should be to determine whether the 2013 restart provisions “provide a greater net benefit for the operational, safety, health and fatigue impacts” they cause, according to the bill.

The funding law requires FMCSA to study two groups of drivers (“each large enough to produce statistically significant results,” the bill notes) — one that operates under post-2013 restart provisions and one that operates under pre-2013 restart provisions. And after at least five months of study, the agency should compare the groups based on “safety critical events” like crashes and the overall fatigue levels of the drivers studied.

The law stipulates that the agency use drivers from a range of applications and fleet sizes and gauge their fatigue levels using Psychomotor Vigilance Tests, actigraph watches and cameras and “other on-board monitoring systems that record or measure safety critical events and driver alertness,” according to the law’s text.

Upon completion of the data collection phase, FMCSA must produce a final report to send to a review panel consisting of “individuals with relevant medical and scientific expertise.”

Throughout the entire process, however, the DOT’s Office of the Inspector General must keep tabs on the agency to ensure the methodology used in the data collection is appropriate and the panel to review the study is qualified.

FMCSA must initially submit a report to the DOT OIG within 60 days of the Dec. 16 signing of the bill, outlining how it plans to execute the study. Within 30 days of receipt of the report, the OIG must report back to the agency and House and Senate committees with any changes.

Within 210 days of receiving the OIG’s recommendation, FMCSA must produce its final report based on its research.

The OIG must then review the report and within 60 days tell the agency and Congressional committees if the agency complied with the requirements of the funding law.

The agency must also make its report available to House and Senate committees and post it online.

After it addresses any concerns of the OIG — and if it concludes the restart provisions enhance safety — the agency will be cleared to enforce the 2013 restart rules again.