The 34-hour restart’s complicated limbo

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Updated Feb 21, 2016

2015 11 03 17 23

Following up on reporting that came late Friday, outlining in brief what is a precarious situation for the future of the 34-hour restart in the hours of service rules, a few scenarios are possible in the restart’s near future.

As Overdrive has reported, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has finished the data-collection phase of the Congressionally mandated study of the limitations put on the restart in 2013, which were rescinded at the end of that next year, 2014. Those limitations are the then-requirement of two 1-5 a.m. periods within any 34-hour restart as well as limitation of use of the restart to once per week.

The late 2015 appropriations bill, funding the federal government for fiscal year 2016, was successful in enshrining in law the late-2014 suspension of enforcement of the restart limitations until conclusion of FMCSA’s final report on the required restart study. But crafters of the language, as previously reported, crucially neglected to specify just what version of the restart would be reverted to if the study finds what many in trucking hope: that the unlimited restart, without the 2013 limitations, is the safer option and that such limitations were unjustified.

A close reading of the appropriations bill’s language shows it makes possible these two scenarios, depending on the report’s findings:

  1. If the report finds that operators running under the restricted restart rule show “statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules,” then the 1-5 a.m. periods and the once-per-week limitation of restart use go back into effect.
  2. But if the report finds the opposite or that improvements are not statistically significant, the letter of the law would seem to dictate that “there is no restart to abide by,” to use the Truckload Carriers Association’s language from prior reporting.

Make sense? “I need an interpreter to interpret these uninterpretable rules,” quipped reader Robert Smith under prior reporting on the issue. Keep in mind, nothing is expected to change until FMCSA’s final report on the restart study is certified and released, simply put.

Public safety advocacy groups, some watchers note, have long wanted to do away with the restart altogether, prompting worry that FMCSA might rush to produce their final report. If the report failed to show safety improvement with limited-restart use, those advocacy groups would get what they wanted as the restart would simply disappear, at least in the short term minus any near-term legislative fix to the issue.

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Speaking of which, TCA, contacted yesterday by Overdrive, was unable to offer any sort of timeline or prognosis relative to what the association called the American Trucking Associations’ preferred fix to the restart, which offers a sort of concession on maximum weekly work hours in exchange for re-establishing the restart — if such turns out to be necessary. As previously noted, TCA outlined that “fix” thusly:

Taking an off-duty period of 34 consecutive hours or more allows the driver to exceed the 60/7 & 70/8 limits, [but only] up to [a] 75-hour, 7-calendar-day cap.

The 75-hour cap on weekly on-duty hours would be a new addition to the rule, and it’s less than the oft-cited (though rarely reached, if anecdotal reports from drivers are correct) 82 maximum on-duty hours possible under the current restart.

Queried yesterday about the situation, ATA Press Secretary Sean McNally only offered a statement reiterating what we already know, essentially: “The glitch in the legislative language has the potential to put this safety rule [the restart itself] at risk. ATA is both disappointed and troubled by this development, and is working with key members of Congress to address the problem to ensure that the trucking industry can continue to deliver America’s goods safely and efficiently.”

Representatives with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, also contacted yesterday, have yet to respond.

Readers, meanwhile, responded in a variety of ways to the reporting. “This is what happens when people that have no clue try to control individuals’ decisions,” noted Thomas Duncan. “Why not just stop treating everybody out here like children and show some respect for hardworking people! Hold individuals responsible for their actions and not everyone else just because they happen to have the same occupation! It is sickening what is going on in all this.

Scott Cochran: The 34-hour restart truly is not about tweaking the system to be able to run more hours in a normal week, but more so about the logic that [most] every other American takes two days off and starts a fresh week. Heck, doctors and nurses work 16-plus hours daily, some for months straight with no days off, and they cut people open, stick [them with] needles, and ultimately hold someone’s life in there ability to perform their duties. So technically the limitations on hours driven in a week has no real merit other than [satisfying] someone whining about not getting time off… Sorry, cupcake, you’re out here to work, not be on vacation. Although I raise the question: Why is it someone at a plant or manufacturing facility can put in 80- to 90-plus hours a week with no days off, but for some reason the government thinks it’s unacceptable in a truck?”

Steve Bixler: The HOS is not for drivers anymore | In 1935 the Federal Government passed the Motor Carrier Act to begin regulating Trucking. In 1939, The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) wrote and enacted the first Hours of Service (HOS) rules. When the HOS rules were first written, they were meant to protect drivers from unscrupulous Motor Carriers who were literally driving their drivers into the ground by forcing them to work dangerously long hours to deliver the freight. The saying was, “If you can’t handle it, we will get someone who can.” These rules remained in place, basically unchanged (and working well), for the next 65 years or so. Around that time, some public interest groups, and mega-carriers, decided these rules were no longer good enough, and started to pressure the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to make changes. Eleven years, and many changes later, we now have in place a system that allows these same unscrupulous carriers to micro-manage their drivers’ day to the point where they are once again, literally driving the drivers into the ground. By using ELDs, these carriers monitor the trucks by the minute, and can constantly communicate with the driver to keep him moving for every available minute of driving time. With no flexibility for the driver to make informed choices based on traffic, weather, or driver fitness, we are expected to start at a prescribed time and put in our 14-hour day with no delays or breaks, other than those mandated by FMCSA, regardless of what we, as drivers, see to be safest. If FMCSA truly wants to make it safe for us on the road, we, not our employers, have got to have the ability to choose when it is best and safest for us to do our job. The FMCSA has got to forget about mandating ELDs, as anyone using them can cheat anyway, and rewrite the HOS rules so we can once again be safe on the highways. If they truly want to do what is right, they need to set up a panel of actual truck drivers to help rewrite the regulations as we are the people that truly know what works, and what doesn’t.

This is what I told Scott Darling last October when I met him and Jack Van Steenburg at a meeting. Although they listened intently to what I had to say, I’m not sure either one on them truly understood a word of it.

Gordon Alkire: A simple fix. Allow us to stop the [14-hour] clock for things like avoiding rush-hour traffic. Stopping to eat or take a safety nap. Let us decide when to stop and for how long without penalty like there is today. For a good many years we managed to survive safely by being able stop the clock. This too will help reduce the [problems with the] parking situation as drivers can change the time of day they like to run now. Dump that useless 30-minute break … .

–James Jaillet contributed to this report.