WASHINGTON — A proposed fix to the 34-hour restart issue is among numerous items included in a Continuing Resolution that would keep the government operating past Friday.
The CR, introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers of Kentucky, would continue funding for federal programs and services until April 28, 2017.
The current CR expires at the close of the day Friday.
The House took no action on the CR during Wednesday's business session.
Not included in the CR is any language that would preempt states from passing trucking regulations that are in conflict with federal regulations.
The restart issue is among what Rogers said were “provisions needed to prevent catastrophic, irreversible, or detrimental changes to government programs, to support our national security, and to ensure good government.”
The restart provision in the CR would clarify language in the FY2016 omnibus appropriations bill that could, if not corrected, have eliminated the restart completely from the Hours of Service regulation.
The situation goes back all the way to the 2003 HOS final rule that established the 34-hour restart, which allowed a professional truck driver to reset the weekly clock an unlimited number of times by going off-duty for 34 consecutive hours.
But in 2011, after several court challenges to the existing rule, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a new HOS rule that included the 34-hour restart provision, but allowed a restart to be taken only once every 168 hours and required the restart to include two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. time periods.
The trucking industry complained the 2011 restart rule, which became effective July 1, 2013, hurt productivity, but couldn’t sway FMCSA’s decision.
The industry then turned to Congress, which in December 2014 suspended the 2011 rule and reinstated in the 2004 rule, and subsequently told FMCSA to conduct a study on the efficacy of the two different restart provisions.
When Congress passed the FY2016 omnibus bill, language was inadvertently omitted from the bill, and the end result of the omission could have resulted in the elimination of the restart completely if the study showed the 2004 rule was more effective than the 2011 rule.
But the study, although completed and in the hands of Department of Transportation and FMCSA officials, has not been released, so the 2003 rule remains in place.
Rogers’ CR bill is very similar to the Senate’s approved version of the FY2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill that says unless the study shows the 2011 restart rule “demonstrates statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity and work schedules” in comparison with the 2003 rule, the 2003 rule becomes permanent law.
Most experts doubt the study will reveal the 2011 restart rule shows statistically significant improvement in those areas.
The American Trucking Associations was pleased that the restart fix was included in the CR, something that didn’t happen when the current CR was passed just before FY2017 began October 1.
“ATA thanks Congress for including what should be a permanent fix to the Hours of Service restart in this Continuing Resolution, and we look forward to its final passage into law to resolve this issue,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Reverting back to the pre-July 2013 restart shifts the emphasis back to safety by removing flawed data from the rulemaking process. The entire industry will now be able to comply with this rule thanks to a common-sense approach championed by a bipartisan group of legislators.
“While ATA sought the same for preempting states that have added redundant rest break requirements on top of the existing federal standard, ATA will continue to push hard for federal preemption of specific state laws when the 115th Congress convenes next month.”
Safety advocacy groups immediately blasted proposed restart fix, calling it a “poison provision.
“In a major assault on the safety of families and truck drivers across the country, the House and Senate Republican leaders just delivered special trucking interests an early Christmas present,” said Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) “ Language inserted in the year-end government funding bill repeals key safety features of the Obama administration’s truck driver Hours of Service rule intended to combat truck driver fatigue.”
The 2011 rule, she said, requires that after “a grueling week of 75 or more work hours, truck drivers, who take only the minimum 34-hours off duty between work weeks, must get two consecutive nights of rest during the 34-hour off duty period. Studies show that nighttime sleep is much more restful than attempts to sleep during daytime. Special interests succeeded in getting this rollback despite the growing problem of truck driver fatigue in the industry, unabated increases in truck crash deaths and injuries, and overwhelming public opposition.”
“This action to rip out essential safety protections for hard-working truck drivers who deserve a weekend off for adequate rest and recovery time is yet another example of the grip that corporate trucking interests have on some members of Congress,” said Joan Claybrook, Chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) and former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “The American public is scared of sharing the road with exhausted and overworked drivers behind the wheel of a big rig and with good reason. In fatal crashes involving a large truck and a passenger car, 98 percent of the deaths are the occupants of the car.
Claybrook noted that the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have held more than 100 Congressional hearings this year, but that Republican committee leaders never allowed a single hearing on the restart issue.
“Instead, the repeal of the truck safety provisions was secretly attached to a must pass spending bill because they knew it wouldn’t pass muster,” she said.
Daphne Izer, Founder of Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T.), responded to the CR, saying, “Once again, our lawmakers caved to special interests and put everyone who travels our roads at risk by including the “tired trucker” provision in the Continuing Resolution. As a mother who began advocating to make trucking safer after my son Jeff was killed by a truck driver who fell asleep while driving, I am devastated that language to increase the number of hours that truck drivers can drive and work was included in a must-pass bill. This rollback of the Hours of Service rules will do nothing to address the issue of driver fatigue and will certainly not reduce the number of fatigue related crashes. It does, however, show a disregard for the nearly 100,000 people who have been killed in truck crashes since I began working to make trucking safer, and the families like mine who are left to cope with the grief that decisions like these cause.”
Another provision of the CR that impacts trucking is a $4.1 billion disaster relief measure that includes $1 billion for the Federal Highway Emergency Relief program to repair damaged highways as a result of Hurricane Matthew, floods, drought, and other severe weather events.
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