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Congress clears bill directing two paths forward for 34-hour restart

Update, 12/10: The Senate has passed the bill, and President Obama has signed it into law . The law sets two paths forward for the 34-hour restart. See the original story below for more details.

Update, 12/8, 3:19 p.m.: The House has passed the bill referenced in this story. For the bill to become law and the 34-hour restart issue to be resolved, the Senate must still pass the bill and President Obama must sign it. Below is the original story.

Semi Truck ParkedA year after inadvertently putting the 34-hour restart at risk of being removed from federal hours of service regulations, Congress has unveiled legislation to fix the issue. Lawmakers in the House and Senate will this week take up the bill to clarify the future of truckers’ use of the 34-hour restart, likely putting the issue to rest.

For the time being, truckers can continue to operate as they have since December 2014, meaning 34-hour restarts do not need to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and the 34-hour restart option can be used as often as truck operators like.

However, should a pending study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration find rules in place between July 1, 2013, and December 2014 promote better rest for truck operators, those rules would go back into effect. Those provisions include the requirement that a 34-hour restart contain two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and a once-per-week limit to the restart’s use.

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If the study does not conclusively determine the July 1, 2013-effective rules to be safer, then no changes will be made and truckers can use the restart as they do now: No 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and no limit on the use of a restart.

Congress included the hours of service clarifications in a 2017 Continuing Resolution appropriations bill that funds the government through April. The hours of service language appears to be the only trucking-related measure in the legislation. The bill will likely pass both chambers of Congress this week.

The reenactment of 2013 hours of service rules hinges on whether FMCSA’s restart study finds that truckers abiding by those regs “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 under the restart provisions in effect on June 30, 2013,” according to the bill, which was released late Tuesday.

Simply, Congress calls for the statistically safer rules — as determined by a study to be conducted of hundreds of drivers operating under various work schedules — to be the rules that become permanent.

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This was the intent of Congress in December 2014 when lawmakers rolled back the 2013-implemented changes to hours of service rules. Congress in that bill also required FMCSA to study drivers operating under both sets of rules to determine which were safer. However, lawmakers failed to clarify which rules would go back into effect based on the study’s results.

In an attempt to fix this issue, Congress accidentally included language in a December 2015-passed bill that could have cut the 34-hour restart option from the books, based on the study’s outcome.

This week’s legislation clarifies Congress’ original 2014 intent and cancels out 2015’s mix-up.

Both chambers of Congress this year floated separate plans to fix the issue, but Congress ultimately settled on the language unveiled late Tuesday.

FMCSA announced earlier this year it had completed the data gathering phase of its 34-hour restart study. It has not said when it plans to release the results of its findings.

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James Jaillet is the News Editor for CCJ and Overdrive. Reach him at jjaillet@randallreilly.com.