UPDATE: Implementation of New Hours of Service Rules

Gus J. Bourgeois, III

November 27, 2013

In August, I reported here that earlier that month, a federal appeals court in Washington, DC upheld almost all of the controversial “hours of service” rules enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in late 2011. The rules included provisions:

  • reducing a driver’s seven-day workweek to 70 hours from 82 hours;
  • imposing  limits placed on drivers’ 34-hour minimum restart period, requiring it to occur once every seven days and requiring it to include two rest periods between 1 am and 5 am over two consecutive days; and
  • prohibiting truckers from driving more than eight hours without first taking at least a 30-minute off-duty break (although the Court rejected this provision as applied to short-haul (local delivery) drivers).

The battle over the most contentious of these rules has now shifted from the courts to Congress.  Late last month, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives that would delay implementation of the 34-hour minimum restart period rule until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) can assess the methodology used by the FMCSA in crafting the rule.  Until that occurs, the bill would require the hours of service rules in place prior to the adoption of the 34-hour minimum restart period rule to be reinstated.

The bill, called “The True Understanding of the Economy and Safety Act”, was sponsored by Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine).  Rep. Hanna stated that the purpose of the bill was “to ensure the [34-hour minimum restart period] rule makes sense and will not actually harm the traveling public and the American economy.” The bill is supported by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which represents the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers.

The 34-hour minimum restart period rule has long been criticized as being harmful to the economic interests of shippers, truckers and the public at large, but the bill strikes at the foundations of the rule by requiring GAO to take a second look at the FMCSA’s justifications in crafting it – in particular, whether the rule provides sufficient safety benefits to justify any such harmful economic effects.  It remains to be seen whether the bill will be passed and signed into law, but for now, the battle over the 34-hour minimum restart period rule continues.