Photo: Jim Park

Photo: Jim Park

UPDATED -- American Trucking Associations won its fight against the 34-hour restart provision of the hours of service rule -- at least for now.

On Saturday night the Senate passed and sent to President Obama a bill that replaces the controversial 2013 version of the restart with an earlier, less restrictive, version while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does more research on the issue.

The provision occupies five pages of a 1,603-page, $1.1 trillion measure that funds the government through next September.

The earlier version of the restart goes into effect as soon as Obama signs the bill. The bill tells FMCSA to publish notice of the change in the Federal Register as soon as possible.

ATA President and CEO Bill Graves thanked Congress.

“We have known since the beginning that the federal government did not properly evaluate the potential impacts of the changes it made in July 2013,” Graves said in a statement. “Now, thanks to the hard work of Senator (Susan) Collins and many others, we have a common sense solution. Suspending these restrictions until all the proper research can be done is a reasonable step.” 

ATA has been pursuing the change for more than a year. It contends that the restart provision enacted by FMCSA in July 2013 reduces productivity for some carriers and may increase risk by putting more trucks on the road during Monday morning rush hour.

In August 2013, a trio of House members championed ATA’s effort with a bill that would have directly ordered the provision to be suspended. Subsequently, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., joined with a companion bill in the Senate.

Later, ATA switched to a different approach: It sought to cut off funding for enforcement of the provision in the must-pass appropriations bill that Congress just approved. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, championed the successful campaign in the Senate.

The measure passed despite resistance from FMCSA, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, safety advocacy groups, the Teamsters Union, the police who enforce the safety rules and some trucking interests.

FMCSA contended that the provision improves safety because nighttime sleep is more restorative than daytime sleep.

Foxx said in a blog post that the agency developed the provision in response to finding that some carriers were operating to the maximum of the hours allowed under the old rule.

“It was also revealed that some truckers operating under the old rules were adding one full work shift per week,” Foxx said, adding that agency research shows that long hours of work without enough time for recovery leads to chronic fatigue.

ATA's Graves said most drivers are not overworked or pushed to extremes. The average driver works a little more than 50 hours per week and only 2% work more than 61 hours, he said.

A senior enforcement official warned that police will not be able to quickly adjust to the new restart provisions.

Inspectors need training and the software they use for roadside inspections and compliance reviews must be changed, said Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “You’re going to have varying levels of implementation, which impacts results, data quality and CSA scores,” he said last week.

Some trucking companies, represented in Washington by the Trucking Alliance, also had concerns about ATA’s approach. The Alliance, which has been lobbying for expedited implementation of the electronic logging mandate, was concerned that ATA’s approach was antagonistic and could slow the ELD mandate.

The current restart provision requires drivers to take two periods off between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. during their 34-hour restart, and limits use of the restart to once a week.

This provision will be suspended in favor of the earlier version, which does not have these restrictions. The suspension will last until FMCSA finishes the study or September 30 of next year, whichever comes later.

The agency must begin the study within three months of Obama signing the bill. The study must compare work schedules, fatigue and safety-critical events such as crashes between two groups of drivers, one following the old provision and the other the new one. The agency must use electronic log data “to the extent practicable.”

An independent panel of medical and scientific experts must review the initial study plan and final report. Also, the Department of Transportation Inspector General must review the study plan to make sure it will produce valid results.

Update clarifies that the change is in effect when President Obama signs the bill.

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