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Wording Puts Truckers in Restart Limbo

4 min read

No news is currently the best news with the 34-hour restart uncertainty.

Shannon Newton, the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association, recently traveled with representatives of state trucking companies to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress about the rule being in a sort of limbo. The issue at hand is the 34-hour restart for drivers.

“This is a national issue,” said Newton, whose group met with, among others, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark. “It was our job to compel them that this is a really big issue for our industry. It does require a legislative solution. We’re really just trying to garner support.”

Since 2003, drivers have operated under a safety system that requires them to take a 34-hour break that resets their available on-job time. In July 2013, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration tried to amend that provision to limit the restarts to once a week and to mandate that the rest time include consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods — when truckers would prefer to be driving because of fewer traffic headaches.

The trucking industry got Congress to suspend the FMCSA’s restart restrictions until a safety report could be completed. All was happy in Truckville until Congress passed the omnibus appropriations bill in 2015 that apparently included language that would eliminate the 34-hour restart completely if the safety report wasn’t conclusive.

The language was supposed to say — in the minds of supporters of the less restrictive restart — that if the safety report didn’t prove conclusive safety results from the restrictions, then the 34-hour restart would revert permanently to the current system. What the language did say was that if the safety report wasn’t conclusive, then the restart provision would be shucked.

Most think the language oopsie was an oversight in a billion-page bill. American Trucking Associations Press Secretary Sean McNally called it a “glitch” because the intentions of Congress on the restart were clear: keep the less restrictive 34-hour restart if the restrictions don’t significantly improve safety.

“There was lack of oversight by a lot of people because a lot of people had access to the bill,” Newton said. “Certainly, in the industry, there is some responsibility for that because it was language we advocated for. I think it was truly an oversight, or an unintended consequence. There is the issue of it’s a large bill and you’re given 48 hours to read it. If you have not previously seen it, there’s no way they could have all combed through the full bill. When we were meeting with [congressional] members they were nodding their heads, ‘Well, that’s what happens.’”

Currently, the report is either not complet or is being held back because of the language question. The FMCSA and Department of Transportation would like to see the 34-hour restart endure, either in the version they prefer or the trucking industry’s favorite.

Without a 34-hour restart, truckers would revert to the “rolling recap” in place before 2003. McNally called this rule “antiquated” because it requires drivers to do a daily calculation to determine how many hours they can work; there is no reset where a driver takes a weekend off and starts again at zero.

Newton said the entire transportation network has been structured on the current system for more than a decade. Some industry experts said productivity may fall up to 10 percent if the rolling recap is implemented.

“If the restart goes away entirely, drivers will likely revert back to working shorter, but more consecutive days, and the rolling recap — with its problematic math — would come back into play on a widespread basis,” McNally said in an emailed statement. “Bottom line: Eliminating the restart entirely would unleash chaos not just on the trucking industry, but on the law enforcement community as well, which is why the ATA is looking for a bipartisan solution.”

The hope is that Congress will include clarifying language in a soon-to-pass bill, and then the safety report is released and everyone gets on with their lives under whichever restart survives. It’s just a matter of Congress, you know, passing a bill during the campaign season.

“The really big problem is there are very few pieces of legislation that move at all,” Newton said. “I wouldn’t want to bet on congressional action. We’re confident there is support there to get a solution, to work with the industry that will prevent this chaotic situation. I don’t know exactly how.”

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