Possibly the biggest trucking news in 2014 happened just before the year came to an end. Congress, in the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act, ordered the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to suspend enforcement of the two restrictions placed on the 34-hour restart in July 2013 until a study can be done.
Therefore, no longer is the driver required to have two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods as part of the 34-hour off-duty period. No longer is the driver required to wait 168 hours from the beginning of one restart period to the beginning of the next one. To have a valid restart, a property-carrying driver must simply have 34 consecutive hours off duty.
That, in and of itself, seems straightforward. However, it bears mentioning that this is not a change in the regulations. It is a change in enforcement. The regulations restricting the use of the restart will still be there, even though they are not being enforced. Also, since enforcement and providers of hours-of-service solutions had very little time to prepare for the change, 60/70-hour violations are being indicated in error.
FMCSA and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance are working on getting software updated and officers retrained. Technology providers are working on updates to onboard recording devices and other automated logging and auditing systems.
While training is in process and systems are being updated, if a violation is identified for one of your drivers and you believe it has been identified in error, J.J. Keller Senior Editor Tom Bray suggests following these steps to determine whether the violation is valid:
● Pull the driver’s logs for the seven days prior to the violation.Look for a valid restart in the seven-day period (an off-duty period of 34 or more consecutive hours).
● If there was a valid restart, total the driver’s on-duty hours since the restart period.
● If the driver was driving and his/her on-duty total since the last restart was over the 60- or 70-hour limit (whichever is applicable), consider it a valid violation.
● If the driver was driving and his/her on-duty total was below the applicable limit at the time of the violation, consider the violation invalid.
● If the violation was identified by an internal log auditing system or procedure and it is not valid, update your auditing procedure and check on the status of any necessary technology update.
If the violation was cited by an enforcement officer and is not valid, the best recourse at this time is to challenge the violation through the DataQs process.
Bray cautions that one pitfall during this interim period is doing nothing about 60/70-hour violations that may show up on reports. Following this approach may result in overlooking serious violations or inadvertently encouraging violations by being less vigilant with your auditing. On the other hand, if a cited violation isn’t valid and you don’t take the time to examine it and challenge it, your hours of service BASIC score will suffer.
Also, be aware that enforcement on intrastate operations is not as cut-and-dried as it is for interstate drivers. The law prohibits the spending of federal dollars for enforcement — including the reimbursement to states for their enforcement activities. However, states may not be using federal dollars to enforce intrastate regulations, and state laws and/or regulations may not be enacted through a process similar to how federal regulations are enacted. It is best to check with the particular state in question as to how it is handling this “restart rollback.”
The suspension of enforcement at the federal level is in effect until September 30, 2015. However, if, as of that date, FMCSA has not submitted the final report from the 34-hour restart study, the suspension is to continue until FMCSA does so. In other words, the FMCSA cannot enforce the restart restrictions until September 30, 2015, or until FMCSA provides Congress with a report from the required 34-hour restart study, whichever is later. With the number of conditions in the legislation about how this study must be conducted, the September 30 date will be nearly impossible to meet.
Betty Weiland is senior editorial manager for transportation with J.J. Keller.