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Congress creates HOS 34-hour re-start loophole, ATA working on a solution

Tuesday, February 16, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: ATA Staff
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Kevin Jones writing for Fleet Owner magazine reported February 15, 2016 that Congress didn’t just roll back the restart provision of the hours of the service (HOS) rule language in its recently passed highway bill, it basically eliminated it altogether. 

According to the report, because the Department of Transportation has interpreted that the restart clause in the FAST Act appropriation package “contains no language to direct our industry on a restart provision, then there is no restart provision to abide by,” according to an “urgent” notification emailed by the Truckload Carriers Assn. to its members.

American Trucking Association officials said they became aware of a problem with the legislative language in last year's omnibus appropriations bill intended to address concerns about restrictions placed on the 34-hour restart, a portion of the hours-of-service rule that that provides an extended rest period for professional truck drivers.

Despite the confusion, ATA and TCA urge truckers to carry on business as usual until a resolution to the apparent new loophole in HOS can be worked out.

 “As discussions around this issue remain fluid, we are instructing our carrier members to keep their fleets operating as they have always been as members of Congress seek to reach an agreement on the best way to proceed,” says the TCA notice, signed by Chairman Keith Tuttle and President John Lyboldt.

An ATA white paper on the issue explains that, at the end of January, ATA was approached by “key members” of Congress who had been informed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that DOT interprets the highway bill language “in a troubling way.”

According Fleet Owner, at issue are the “bolt-on” provisions to the HOS restart (the two consecutive 1-5 am off-duty periods and the 168 hour restriction) added by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to the 2013 overhaul of HOS. ATA had lobbied successfully in the spring of 2014 that the “bolt-ons” actually had an adverse impact on safety and productivity by forcing trucks onto the road at peak morning traffic hours. The resulting suspension and rollback to the pre-2013 restart, included by Congress in the DOT’s 2015 budget, also called on FMCSA to produce a study comparing the effectiveness of the two systems.

However, because the study had not been completed by the end of the fiscal year, Congress continued the suspension with language in the highway bill. But, by DOT’s interpretation of the recent legislation, if the study finds the 2013 changes do not meet the standards set by Congress, “the entire restart provision would have to be vacated,” according to the ATA summary.

So ATA has been working with trucking interests to come up a solution to provide “clear guidance and parameters on negotiating positions.”

“If successful, a compromise could limit maximum hours in any 7 calendar days while retaining industry flexibility through use of an unrestricted restart-type provision,” the ATA white paper says. “The Executive Committee took this action with the understanding that while such a compromise could result in some operational challenges for a portion of the industry, it would help ensure the future existence of sufficient weekly work hours to meet freight demand.”

ATA emphasizes that the daily work rules—11 driving hours, 14 on-duty hours, 10 off-duty hours, and the 30-minute rest break—are not affected by the highway bill language and are not “on the table for discussion” as part of any ‘restart-related’ solution.

The upshot is the trucking industry does not want to lose the scheduling flexibility afforded by the simple restart. “Any compromise solution must not be overly restrictive, but would likely restrict total weekly hours to a limit below that which is currently possible,” the white paper states.

As for the most likely legislative course of action, Congress hopes to append the new HOS provision to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization bill now being debated in the House, or to any extension of the current FAA authorization. If a compromise solution cannot be reached in the very near term, ATA says the organization “is prepared to engage in a fight” to retain the simple 34 hour restart provision.

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