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Trucking group lauds 34-hour restart ‘fix


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Fleet Owner  /  December 7, 2016

The American Trucking Assns. is lauding a congressional “fix” to the 34-hour restart rule. The hours-of-service issue is one of a number of items included in a Continuing Resolution that would keep the federal government operating past Friday, when current funding expires.

“ATA thanks Congress for including what should be a permanent fix to the hours-of-service restart in this Continuing Resolution, and we look forward to its final passage into law to resolve this issue,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a statement. “Reverting back to the pre-July 2013 restart shifts the emphasis back to safety by removing flawed data from the rulemaking process. The entire industry will now be able to comply with this rule thanks to a common sense approach championed by a bipartisan group of legislators.”

“While ATA sought the same for preempting states that have added redundant rest break requirements on top of the existing federal standard, ATA will continue to push hard for federal preemption of specific state laws when the 115th Congress convenes next month,” Spear added.

According to a report in The Hill, the House Appropriations Committee released the CR Tuesday evening, which funds the government through April 28. According to the report, last year’s omnibus spending bill suspended President Obama’s proposed changes to the hours-of-service rule until the DOT can prove the regulation would actually improve driver health and safety.

Back in April, the Senate Appropriations committee approved a Dept. of Transportation budget bill that includes language to correct a potential problem with the 34-hour restart. In an appropriations package two years ago, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) included language that initially rolled back the restart provisions on hours of service limits, pending further study of 2013 changes by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

But the current budget appropriation, passed by Congress in the previous government funding bill, contains an apparent legislative error in a clause meant to preserve the restart status quo until the study is complete. So, the funding bill for the 2017 fiscal year contains a correction. Specifically, if the study shows that the 2013 restart changes have resulted in “demonstrated statistically significant improvement” in highway safety and driver health, then those changes—which included two consecutive overnight off-duty periods—would be reinstated.

However, if the study does not support the 2013 restart changes, then the previous restart rules would be restored with this addition: “A driver who uses that restart rule may not drive after being on duty more than 73 hours in any period of 7 consecutive days.”

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Rollback of truck safety rules may be just the beginning

Associated Press  /  December 8, 2016

The trucking industry scored a victory this week when Republican lawmakers effectively blocked Obama administration safety rules aimed at keeping tired truckers off the highway. But there's more coming down the road.

The American Trucking Associations is pledging to come back next month, when Republicans will control the White House and Congress, and try to block state laws that require additional rest breaks for truckers beyond what federal rules require. The group says there should be one uniform national rule on work hours for interstate truckers and that the extra breaks aren't necessary for safety.

The trucking industry's latest triumph has caused concern among safety advocates that it may signal the start of a broad rollback of transportation safety regulations once there's no longer a Democratic president to check the tendency of Republican lawmakers to side with industry.

"Unfortunately, it's going to be an open season on safety in this coming Congress," said Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration.

Shippers and some segments of the trucking industry probably will also push for long-sought goals of increasing the weight limit on trucks to more than 90,000 pounds and increasing the length of individual trailers in double-trailer combinations from 28 feet to 33 feet, safety advocates said. The trailers in single-trailer trucks can be up to 53 feet, but trailers in trucks with two trailers currently can't be more than 28 feet.

"It's going to be very tough because the companies really care about the cost. They don't care about the safety no matter what they say," said safety advocate Joan Claybrook.

The provision Republicans added to a must-pass government spending bill this week suspends regulations issued by the Obama administration requiring truckers to take two nights off to rest if they take only the minimum break before starting a new work week. Drivers for companies that operate on a seven-day schedule can work as many as 80 hours in a work week through a combination of driving and other work, like loading and unloading.

Truckers are required to take at least a minimum 34-hour break before starting a new work week.

But the trucking industry objected to requirements that the 34 hours include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. Sleep scientists say rest during the early morning hours is critical for people to feel refreshed. The suspension means truckers can head out on the road again during those hours if the 34-hour break has elapsed.

Another regulation that prevents truckers from using the 34-hour break to start a new work week twice within a seven-day period was also suspended.

Truck driver Bill Varnado, 66, of Dallas, Georgia, said he likes the sleep requirement because it ensures that drivers are well-rested. He said it's hard to find places to sleep in one's rig on the road, so drivers sometimes keep going.

"Sometimes you're forced to drive fatigued because you can't find anywhere to park," said Varnado, who drives for Pro Trucking Inc. of Acworth, Georgia, during a truck-stop break along Interstate 81.

But self-employed trucker George Lafferty, 61, of Henry, Illinois, said Congress should repeal the rule.

"I don't see how the government can tell you when to sleep and when not to," Lafferty said during a truck-stop interview along Interstate 81 after dropping off a load of yeast at a livestock-feed plant.

"A driver should know when he's fatigued or not," he said. "If you're fatigued, take a half-hour, hour nap."

Besides truck safety, Congress is also likely to be asked to deal with a wide range of other transportation safety concerns.

The auto and technology industries, for example, are telling Congress that they fear a "patchwork" of state safety laws will hinder the deployment of self-driving cars. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials have developed voluntary guidelines for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of self-driving cars that they want automakers to follow. But California's Department of Motor Vehicles wants to make the guidelines mandatory.

Some industry officials have complained the guidelines go too far and may stifle innovation. Safety advocates say they don't go far enough.

"We think it would be completely inappropriate for Congress to pre-empt the states without strong federal safety standards in place for automated vehicles," said William Wallace, a policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports.

"States are the ones that make the final call on whether automated vehicles should be allowed on the roads," he said. "We think citizens of those states have the right to take action to keep their roads safe."

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House passes bill directing future of 34-hour restart

Commercial Carrier Journal (CCJ)  /  December 8, 2016

The House has passed the bill referenced in this story. For the bill to become law and the 34-hour restart issue to be resolved, the Senate must still pass the bill and President Obama must sign it. Below is the original story.

A year after inadvertently putting the 34-hour restart at risk of being removed from federal hours of service regulations, Congress has unveiled legislation to fix the issue. Lawmakers in the House and Senate will this week take up the bill to clarify the future of truckers’ use of the 34-hour restart, likely putting the issue to rest.

For the time being, truckers can continue to operate as they have since December 2014, meaning 34-hour restarts do not need to include two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and the 34-hour restart option can be used as often as truck operators like.

However, should a pending study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration find rules in place between July 1, 2013, and December 2014 promote better rest for truck operators, those rules would go back into effect. Those provisions include the requirement that a 34-hour restart contain two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and a once-per-week limit to the restart’s use.

If the study does not conclusively determine the July 1, 2013-effective rules to be safer, then no changes will be made and truckers can use the restart as they do now: No 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and no limit on the use of a restart.

Congress included the hours of service clarifications in a 2017 Continuing Resolution appropriations bill that funds the government through April. The hours of service language appears to be the only trucking-related measure in the legislation. The bill will likely pass both chambers of Congress this week.

The reenactment of 2013 hours of service rules hinges on whether FMCSA’s restart study finds that truckers abiding by those regs “demonstrate statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules, in comparison to…drivers who operated under the restart provisions in effect on June 30, 2013,” according to the bill, which was released late Tuesday.

Simply, Congress calls for the statistically safer rules — as determined by a study to be conducted of hundreds of drivers operating under various work schedules — to be the rules that become permanent.

This was the intent of Congress in December 2014 when lawmakers rolled back the 2013-implemented changes to hours of service rules. Congress in that bill also required FMCSA to study drivers operating under both sets of rules to determine which were safer. However, lawmakers failed to clarify which rules would go back into effect based on the study’s results.

In an attempt to fix this issue, Congress accidentally included language in a December 2015-passed bill that could have cut the 34-hour restart option from the books, based on the study’s outcome.

This week’s legislation clarifies Congress’ original 2014 intent and cancels out 2015’s mix-up.

Both chambers of Congress this year floated separate plans to fix the issue, but Congress ultimately settled on the language unveiled late Tuesday.

FMCSA announced earlier this year it had completed the data gathering phase of its 34-hour restart study. It has not said when it plans to release the results of its findings.

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Senate locks in restart rollback at deadline

Fleet Owner  /  December 12, 2016

With less than hour to go before a midnight deadline, the U.S. Senate on Friday joined the House to enact a “fix” to the hours of service restart provision that restores the regulation to the pre-July 2013 version. Oh, and the vote also kept the government running.

The annual funding bill for federal government, including the budget for the Dept. of Transportation, has been where Congress has blocked the restart since 2014, pending the completion of a DOT study on the real-world effectiveness of the 2013 HOS changes. The changes included requiring two overnight off-duty stretches between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. to reset a truck driver’s workweek.

Trucking has lobbied successfully for the suspension each year since, arguing that the change, in addition to disrupting the sleep schedules of some drivers, put more trucks on the road during the morning rush hour, increasing congestion and the risk of accidents.

However, a drafting error in the language included in the 2016 funding bill left the HOS regulations in a potential legal limbo, prompting the need for the correction in the federal funding extension just passed. The correction also locks in the suspension, meaning it won’t have to be renewed each year until the study is complete.

“It is now our hope that as an industry, we can put this issue firmly in the rearview mirror,” said American Trucking Assns. 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 rollback has faced annual opposition, however. The Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety last week called the inclusion of the restart provision “a major assault on safety” that would “decimate” the HOS rule.

“The House and Senate Republican leaders just delivered special trucking interests an early Christmas present,” said AHAS President Jackie Gillan. “Special interests succeeded in getting this rollback despite the growing problem of truck driver fatigue in the industry, unabated increases in truck crash deaths and injuries, and overwhelming public opposition. … It is simply unthinkable that any industry with such an abysmal safety record and responsible for so many innocent deaths and injuries could actually find so many willing partners in Congress to push their greedy anti-safety agenda.”

And Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who has led opposition to the rollback in the Senate, opened a forum on transportation security last week by echoing the AHAS position on truck crashes. Booker called on Congress “to work together” to address “one of the monumental areas in which people are dying in America.”

Trucking, on the other hand, insists the 2013 HOS changes would increase the number of crashes involving commercial vehicles.

“These rules, put forward based on a very limited laboratory sleep study, could have had serious negative safety impacts,” ATA’s Spear said. “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.”

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