One major question mark for the trucking industry has been wiped off the board before the changing of the guard in Washington.
On Dec. 10, President Barack Obama signed a continuing resolution to keep the government funded until April 28. Included in the resolution was language to fix the ambiguity of hours of service regulations for the industry. (The continuing resolution passed the House by a 326-96 vote and the Senate 63-36, in case you are scoring at home.)
The hours of service issue has been a perplexing one for the industry since 2013 when the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration tried to amend the existing provision of the 34-hour restart. Since 2003, drivers had operated under a system that required them to take a 34-hour break to reset their available on-job time.
Obama’s FMCSA wanted to limit the restart to once a week and mandate that the rest time included consecutive 1-5 a.m. rest periods. Truckers, if you’re unaware, want to be driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. because most every other car driver is home asleep so the roadways are emptier and safer for the truckers.
The FMCSA’s new rule was never implemented because the trucking industry got Congress to suspend it until a safety report was completed. The report is still not finished, but the entire restart program was put in jeopardy when a 2015 omnibus appropriations bill included language that seemed to threaten the restart if the safety report wasn’t conclusive.
The continuing resolution signed into law by the president said that no funds could be used to enforce the 1-5 a.m. requirement or prevent the use of more than one restart per week. If the safety report is ever issued and shows the truckers’ preferred regulations aren’t safe, then the hours of service would revert to the FMCSA proposal, but the trucking industry is pretty confident in its position.
“The corrected language on the hours of service issue is a big win,” said Shannon Newton, president of the Arkansas Trucking Association. “That was something we aspired to do, but it was perceived as being a pretty high bar. That is very, very welcome news to the industry. Now we move into a new administration and a new Congress [and] having that one issue taken off the table is certainly a very positive development.”
Newton said the trucking industry doesn’t normally use continuing resolutions to address its problems.
“Typically we would not be big fans of continuing resolutions because they don’t allow you to put additional language in or change any rules or have any increase in funding,” Newton said. “To have this language inserted in that continuing resolution is somewhat of an anomaly and due to a lot of hard work by the trucking federation at both the state and federal level.”
The past couple of weeks have seen more positive developments for the trucking industry. The FMCSA issued final rules for new driver training and a national clearinghouse for drivers with violations of the national drug-testing program.
Newton said Arkansas has had a state database for approximately a decade but a national one was needed since, as one can imagine, trucking companies hire drivers from across the nation depending on route demands. The state database was effective in that a prospective employee’s failed drug test at one Arkansas company was shared with other any other Arkansas companies where he or she might then apply.
The glaring gap in that, of course, is an Arkansas company would not be alerted that a prospective employee had failed a test in any of the other 49 states.
“You really catch people when they’re shopping for jobs,” Newton said. “If I apply for a job with you but fail my pre-employment drug test, I’m not going to tell the next job I apply for. The national database will close the loophole for drivers shopping for employment in multiple states.”
Newton said she wasn’t surprised there has been a flurry of activity with final rules being issued so close to the final days of the current administration. Government agencies are full of political appointees who are trying to check off their to-do lists.
For truckers, it’s nice to have the hours of service issue resolved without having to rehash arguments and lobbying efforts with a new cast of characters. “It’s just nice to be asking for fewer things,” Newton said.