Drivers’ 2013 Hours-of-Service Restart Rules Suspended

By Roy Maurer Dec 15, 2014
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Certain provisions of the 2013 changes to hours-of-service regulations for commercial drivers will be suspended at least until Sept. 30, 2015, and may only take effect again after a validated study is completed. Specifically, drivers will no longer have to schedule their 34-hour restarts to include two 1 a.m.-5 a.m. periods, and they will be permitted to use the restart more than once per week, effectively lifting the cap on drivers’ hours behind the wheel to 82 from 70 hours per week.

The rules were suspended and replaced by an earlier version in a massive spending bill passed by the Senate Dec. 13, 2014, and by the House two days earlier.

The pre-2013 restart rules go into effect as soon as President Barack Obama signs the bill, which he is expected to do. The bill directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Agency (FMCSA) to publish a notice of the change in the Federal Register “as soon as possible.”

The law also requires the FMCSA to complete a comprehensive study of both versions of the restart rule to determine its impact on health, safety and carrier operations. The agency must begin the study within three months after the bill is signed. Congress has directed the study to compare work schedules, fatigue and safety-critical events such as crashes between two groups of drivers, one following the older provision and the other the new one. An independent panel of experts will review the initial study plan and final report, which is to be overseen by the Department of Transportation Inspector General.

‘Reasonable Step’

American Trucking Associations (ATA) has been pursuing a suspension to the 2013 restart rule changes since they were issued. ATA argues that the 2013 restart provision reduces productivity for some carriers and increases risk by putting more trucks on the road during Monday morning rush hour.

“We have known since the beginning that the federal government did not properly evaluate the potential impacts of the changes it made in July 2013,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the hard work of Senator Collins and many others, we have a common sense solution. Suspending these restrictions until all the proper research can be done is a reasonable step.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, authored the amendment suspending the rules.

FMCSA, Unions, Safety Groups Resisted Suspension

The FMCSA as well as labor and safety groups urged Congress to keep the rule intact, arguing that it helps cut down on accidents caused by fatigued drivers.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the agency developed the provision in response to finding that some carriers were operating to the maximum of the hours allowed under the old rule. “The evidence clearly shows that truck drivers are better rested and more alert after two nights of sleep than one night, and that unending 80-hour workweeks lead to driver fatigue and compromise highway safety,” he said.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Advocates for Highway Safety and other groups described the suspension as an “assault” on truck safety that would significantly increase working hours for truck drivers.

ATA responded with its own letter charging that the rule’s advocates are misleading Congress.

“This language does not, as critics suggest, eliminate use of this rest provision,” said Graves. “Instead, it would suspend unwarranted restrictions on the use of the provision while FMCSA conducts a mandated study of the net safety impacts of them.”

The FMCSA wanted to keep the provision in place while it conducted the study that Sen. Collins called for in her amendment.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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