Senate bill retains 34-hour restart, could rework hours of service rules

2015 11 03 16 26The U.S. Senate’s Appropriations Committee April 21 passed 30-0 a bill that corrects a legislative mess-up from December that put the 34-hour restart in jeopardy.

The bill makes clear that the 34-hour restart remains available for use by truck operators should a pending study by the Department of Transportation find that pre-July 2013 restart rules are more effective for truckers’ fatigue levels than those that took effect July 1, 2013.

Should that be the case, the bill would also kick in a few changes to hours of service limits. Specifically, it would set a 73-hour cap on the amount of time truckers can spend on duty in any consecutive seven-day period if utilizing a 34-hour restart. According to the bill’s text obtained by CCJ“the 7-day measurement period moves forward 1 day at midnight each day.”

Current 60 hours in 7 days and 70 hours in 8 days provisions would remain intact.

The legislation, the 2017 FY Transportation and Housing and Urban Development funding bill, only stipulates that the new 73-hour limit would come into effect following the completion of a 34-hour restart.

If the DOT study finds otherwise — that the July 1, 2013-enacted restart regs are the safer rules — then hours of service regulations from July 2013 would go back into effect. In that case, truckers could use a 34-hour restart to reset their weekly clock, but the restart would be required to contain two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and would be limited to use once per week. The new 73-hour cap would not go into effect in such a scenario.

The changes to truckers’ hours of service rules were prompted by the need for Congressional action to fix a technical problem enacted by last year’s omnibus funding act. The provisions in that law pertaining to the 34-hour restart could kill the 34-hour restart entirely, per some interpretations. Such a scenario would deny truck drivers the ability to use a restart to reset their weekly on-duty clock, if needed.

The Senate’s action with the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) bill shows Congress may intend to do more than clarify its December 2015 mess-up. Lawmakers and lobbyists appear instead to be using the need for Congressional action as a means to circumvent the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the formal executive rulemaking process to enact hours changes.

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The hours reforms in the Senate bill have several major hurdles to clear before being enacted, however. The bill must still be passed by the full Senate, where amendments may be offered to change the provisions or remove them entirely.

The same provisions must also be taken up by the U.S. House and passed there.

The two chambers have not passed a lone Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) funding bill in several years, settling for so-called omnibus funding bills late in the year. If that’s the case this year, the provisions would need to be included in such a bill and passed by both chambers of Congress.

Other trucking-related initiatives in the bill include a deadline for DOT to finish work on a rule to mandate the use of speed limiters on heavy trucks and assign more federal funds to the deployment of autonomous vehicles.

CCJ will post more on the trucking-related provisions within the bill when it’s text becomes available.