Congress could act to hasten hours of service changes, revive ‘carrier hiring standards’ provision

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Updated May 1, 2018

Update, 4/26, 1:42 CDT: Rep. Crawford’s amendment related to hours of service has been withdrawn. See Overdrive’s coverage at this link.

If Rep. Crawford’s hours of service amendment is enacted, it would allow FMCSA to move more swiftly on any rules to reform hours of service for two years.If Rep. Crawford’s hours of service amendment is enacted, it would allow FMCSA to move more swiftly on any rules to reform hours of service for two years.

An amendment slated for consideration on the floor of the U.S. House this week as part of a larger aviation-related bill would, if enacted, allow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to skip a step in the formal rulemaking process for any reforms to hours of service regulations taken up by the agency in the next two years.

Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) has filed the amendment for consideration with the House’s Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill, which could be debated on the House floor as early as this week. Crawford’s amendment will be up for a vote by the full House when the FAA bill is brought to the House floor.

The amendment would allow FMCSA to proceed directly to issuing a proposed rule on any changes to hours of service regulations, rather than having to publish an Advanced Notice of a Proposed Rulemaking first, as dictated by federal law. If passed, the amendment would be good for two years from the date of enactment of the bill, meaning FMCSA could skip the ANPRM stage for any hours reforms sought in that time frame.

If the amendment is adopted and then becomes law, FMCSA would still be required to publish a proposed rule and field public comments before issuing a Final Rule on hours of service reforms.

The amendment comes as increasing scrutiny is placed on hours of service regs by both industry stakeholders and lawmakers, likely due in part to the implementation of the electronic logging device mandate. A bill was filed in the U.S. House last month that would allow drivers to pause their 14-hour clocks once each day for up to the three hours. New FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez also told Overdrive last month he hopes to, during his tenure, “see if there’s something we can do either within the existing regulations or do we look at changing regs.”

Crawford’s amendment is one of three trucking-related amendments up for inclusion in the FAA Reauthorization Act. Also on the table is the Denham Amendment, which would reassert the federal government’s authority over managing drivers’ hours of service, and an amendment to protect shippers and brokers in their selection of motor carriers, as detailed below. Read Overdrive‘s coverage of the Denham Amendment from last week at this link.

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Softer version of ‘carrier hiring standards’ amendment revived

Up for consideration for inclusion in the FAA bill is a revised version of an amendment filed in 2015 with Congress’ FAST Act highway bill, which would have instituted criteria for brokers and shippers to examine before hiring a carrier. The amendment ultimately failed to make the cut, which, as detailed by Overdrive then, was a positive outcome for smaller carriers.

The new version, again filed by Rep. Jim Duncan (R-Tenn.), would also institute criteria for which brokers and shippers should adhere to when hiring a carrier. The amendment would protect shippers and brokers from liability in their hiring of motor carriers if the broker/shipper verified the carrier (a) holds proper insurance, (b) is registered properly with the U.S. DOT and (c) does not have an “Unsatisfactory” safety rating within 45 days of hiring the carrier to haul a load.

The version proposed for 2015’s FAST Act said brokers/shippers must select a carrier with a “Satisfactory” safety rating to be protected by the hiring standards language. That would have omitted many small carriers, including independent owner-operators, who hold a “Conditional” safety rating or no safety rating at all.

Duncan’s latest revision also would apply if FMCSA ever institutes its Safety Fitness Determination rule, which could overhaul existing Satisfactory, Conditional and Unsatisfactory ratings with a new system. The agency proposed a Safety Fitness Determination rule in January of 2016, but withdrew the rule last year.