Special legislation, in the form of a Continuing Resolution, that contains language to fix the legislative glitch that threatened use of a 34-hour restart as part of the hours-of-service rule for truck drivers passed the Senate late Friday night, Dec. 9.
The 63-36 vote came less than an hour before the midnight deadline that would have triggered a government shutdown. President Obama signed the measure shortly after the Senate took action.
The House had passed the stopgap spending measure on Dec. 8, by a vote of 326-96. Senate passage was delayed by an eleventh-hour attempt by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to secure Republican assent to a longer extension of expiring benefits for coal miners.
The trucking-specific provision within the C.R. requires that DOT “follow the existing 34-hour restart hours of service rule for truck drivers to ensure continuity in federal rest regulations, should the report on the rule (mandated in prior Acts) not meet the criteria set by Congress.”
The problem stemmed from a policy rider attached to a bill last year that was so poorly written it inadvertently added requirements to a Department of Transportation study on the effectiveness of the restart provisions. That study had been mandated earlier by Congress. The problematic legislation excised language on which HOS rule would apply if the goals to be weighed by the study were not met.
Because of the legislative glitch, if the DOT study — which is still underway — were to find that some restrictions on the restart imposed by DOT in 2013 do not provide specific health and safety benefits to drivers, the entire restart, not just the restrictions, could be eliminated. Those restrictions were suspended while the DOT performs the study.
Earlier this year, trucking advocates had pushed for Congress to simply restore the 2005 restart rules, which allow unlimited use of the restart provision and do not require two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods in any restart. A 2015 mandate had suspended the 2013 restart until the aforementioned DOT study is completed.
The language in the C.R. should, pending the results of that same DOT study, restore the restart to what it was before July 2013, according to the American Trucking Associations. At that time, the Obama Administration restricted the use of the restart to only once every 168 hours and required that the restart period include the two overnight breaks.
“It is now our hope that, as an industry, we can put this issue firmly in the rearview mirror,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “Thanks to hard work by Congressional leaders of both parties and in both chambers, we are one step closer to having an hours-of-service restart rule that makes sense and puts safety first.
“The restart is an important tool for drivers, not to maximize driving time, but to have the flexibility to maximize off-duty time and time at home, and we are pleased that drivers will continue to have unrestricted access to it,” he added.