Collins amendment to suspend 34-hour restart changes passes committee

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 6/5/2014

Two changes made last year to the voluntary 34-hour restart provision may very well soon be suspended thanks to an amendment passed by the Senate Commerce Committee.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, introduced an amendment to the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill that would suspend the requirement of two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnights during the restart and would allow more than one restart in a seven-day period. The amendment passed and was rolled into the appropriations bill on a vote of 21-9 on Thursday.

“We thank Senator Collins and the supportive members of the committee for their work on this important amendment,” said OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. “Truckers have long pointed out the negative impacts of the 2013 changes on their ability to get rest, stay out of busy city traffic, spend time at home, and make a family-supporting income.”

The amendment was the only amendment debated during the markup of the appropriations legislation.

Word had gotten out in the days leading up to the markup hearing that Collins was going to introduce the amendment – creating quite a stir, both in support of and in opposition to the amendment.

In announcing her amendment, Collins took aim straight away at the misinformation that was being circulated about the amendment.

“This amendment does not, does not make changes to the maximum number of hours per day that a driver can be behind the wheel … it does not change the mandatory 30-minute meal or rest break during a shift … it does not change the total on-duty window in each shift … it does not change the minimum off-duty hours required between shifts … it does not change the sleeper-berth requirement for splitting off-duty time,” she told committee members.

What the amendment will do is suspend the overnight provisions and the restriction on using the restart once every seven days while the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration conducts a comprehensive study – with input from the Office of Inspector General – to see if these changes are truly justified.

Firing back at opponents who claimed the amendment would make the roads less safe, Collins said that “the fact is neither truck drivers, neither their customers, neither I, nor anyone in this room ever wants to see an accident caused by driver fatigue or by any other cause.”

“But what has become clear in the past 11 months is that the new federal rules have presented some unintended and unanticipated consequences that are not in the best interest of public safety, the truck drivers, or the businesses and consumers who depend on their services,” she said.

Collins said that problems with congestion and fatigue have developed since the introduction to the changes in the restart provision in July 2013.

“The regulations affecting overnight driving are actually resulting in more trucks being on the road during the most congested hours and during the hours when children are going to and from school,” she said.

She then pointed to the Federal Highway Administration recent announcement to fund a grant program to examine how trucks’ deliveries during times when there is less traffic could not only save time and money, but also improve air quality and create more livable cities.

“So here we have one agency in the department acting in a matter that is totally contrary to another agency in the same department,” Collins said.

She also took aim at the mandatory 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnight periods, mandated for anyone who voluntarily uses the 34-hour restart provision. Collins pointed out that many truck drivers choose to work overnight shifts because there are fewer vehicles on the road.

“It has the perverse effect of making them more tired,” Collins said.

Speaking in support of the amendment Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., came out guns blazing in attacking the two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnights provision.

“When you make trucks and truck drivers stop between the hours of 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., whether they want to or not, whether it’s their sleep patterns or not, it simply pushes more people driving to when kids are going to school, when people are trying to get to work down the crowded highways,” Landrieu said.

“ I just, I don’t know, I viscerally have an objection to the federal government going so far as to prescribe when people should sleep.”

Some committee members in support pointed to the fact that the embattled hours-of-service regulations have been debated and litigated against – most recently with the courts siding with FMCSA and retaining the majority of the regulations.

That point didn’t sit well with Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

“This issue has been debated and litigated; I’m not sure it’s ever been researched,” Blunt said, drawing laughter from committee members.

“Because there is evidence that the department has not ever calculated the effect that the rest rules would have, suspending the rules while they try to calculate the impact of the rules is a good idea.”

Committee members continued to criticize the agency’s lack of research validating the changes to the restart provision. Some members, such as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., were especially critical of the agency’s approach.

“This is a meddlesome U.S. Department of Transportation dreaming up new rules and regulations making it so difficult for commerce. Thank God Congress is here to stop them,” he said.

The amendment passed 21-9 with the only opposition coming from some of the Democrats on the committee. Most of the opposition supported studying the provisions, but had misgivings about suspending the changes during the study.

Now as part of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development appropriations bill, or THUD bill, if it passes with the full bill in both Senate and House and is signed into law, it will prohibit the agency’s ability to continue with the current restart provision and legislatively would replace the old restart provision until the study mandate is satisfied. And that could take a while.

Every year, legislation is put together that funds federal government operations for the upcoming fiscal year – and it’s been a long time since that process was completed before the new fiscal year started.

The federal government’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 each year. Funding for the fiscal year is approved in several different pieces of appropriations legislation. That is what the THUD bill is.

The House of Representatives and the Senate must both approve each of the several pieces of legislation and agree on final versions in conference committee to send to the president; the president must sign the legislation for the funding to continue.

The last time all of the appropriations bills were completely done and signed before Oct. 1 was in 1996.

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