Hours of service changes on the docket as Congress reconvenes for fall session

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truckhighwaynighthoursjpgAs you may recall from the extensive Overdrive reporting earlier in the year: Hours of service rules face an uncertain and potentially more restrictive future, especially for truck operators who utilize a 34-hour hours restart regularly.

A “legislative glitch” included in a December 2015-passed law clouded the future of the 34-hour restart. Should a pending study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration find that pre-2013 rules are more effective at reducing trucker fatigue levels, the 34-hour restart may disappear entirely, meaning truckers wouldn’t be able to take a 34-hour restart to reset their weekly duty-status clock.

It’s up to Congress to head off such a scenario, and it’s an issue lawmakers likely will take up again this fall. Both chambers of Congress are set to resume work this week following a nearly two-month recess.

The House and the Senate both floated fixes earlier this year in their respective 2017 fiscal year Department of Transportation funding bills.

The House proposal is simple: Ditch the 2013-enacted changes to hours of service rules entirely and permanently restore the 2011 rules related to truckers’ 34-hour restarts. The House’s plan would effectively nullify the results of FMCSA’s pending study, removing confusion and further changes to hours of service rules.

The Senate bill, meanwhile, ties its fix to the study’s results. Should the agency’s study find that 2013 rules make truckers’ less fatigued, those rules would be restored, meaning truckers could only use a restart once per week and a restart would need to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods. Those provisions have been suspended since December 2014, when Congress called on the study to confirm the provisions’ efficacy.

Should the study find pre-2013 34-hour restart provisions as the more effective rules, such rules would remain permanent under the Senate bill. However, should that be the case, the Senate bill would institute a new 73-hour cap on the number of hours truckers can be on-duty in a rolling 7-day period.

The Senate version has been passed by the full chamber, meaning its work is done. The House version has cleared committee but has not yet been brought to the floor for a vote. Should the House pass its version as-is, the House and Senate would need to enter a conference committee this fall to hammer out a compromise on hours of service rules, among the many other differences between the two pieces of legislation.

Both chambers are expected to take up pending appropriations bills this month. The chambers must act before the end of the month to prevent a government shutdown, either with an extension of with the passage of the various appropriations bill.

Other trucking-related items on Congress’ docket this year include a potential measure to block FMCSA’s work on the Safety Fitness Determination rule (released this spring) and language to bar states from enforcing state-level break requirements, such as California’s required meal and rest breaks.

Both of those measures are included in the House’s DOT appropriations bill. See the links below for more from prior Overdrive reporting on the subjects:

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