OOIDA presses to keep flexibility of 34-hour restart provision

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | Tuesday, March 01, 2016

For more than 15 years, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has championed the need for flexibility in the hours-of-service regulations. A key victory in that battle for flexibility – the voluntary 34-hour restart provision – could now be in jeopardy.

In recent weeks, scuttlebutt kicked up in Washington, D.C., that the Department of Transportation, according to various media reports, is questioning whether Congress opened the door to the elimination of the restart provision altogether.

While any fix remains to be seen, OOIDA continues to work closely with lawmakers, keeping the core objective of the provision in play for truck drivers, Laura O’Neill-Kaumo told Land Line.

“This is, and always has been, a way to give truck drivers the flexibility they need to get the rest when they need it,” she said. “Flexibility is the core objective we’re fighting to protect.”

That objective for OOIDA has been the same for more than a decade.

Back in 2001 when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was working to revamp the hours-of-service regulation, OOIDA and its members preached the virtues of allowing drivers flexibility under the regulations to avoid driving at times of heavy congestion, when they are in need of rest, etc.

In 2003, the agency unveiled its first overhaul of the HOS regs in more than 60 years and included a voluntary provision that allowed drivers to take nearly a day and a half off and reset their weekly driving limit. The 34-hour-restart was met with a warm reception by truckers and was an instant hit.

That didn’t last long. The 2003 regulation came under fire by groups that sued to have the rule vacated. Eventually they got the ’03 reg tossed. The 2005 version retained the voluntary restart provision, but again drew fire from “safety” groups and was taken back to court.

Eventually the court ruled in 2007 that the 34-hour restart and the 11th hour of driving violated procedural rules. The court did not eliminate the provisions on merit.

But, rather than just address the procedural issues, the FMCSA tacked on two stipulations to the 34-hour restart when it introduced the 2011 incarnation of the HOS regs.

Truckers were then limited to using the restart provision once every 168 hours, or seven days, and each restart was required to have two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnight rest periods included in it.

Although truckers didn’t like it, those changes remained the status quo until mid-2014. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, championed an amendment to the 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill that sought to suspend the added stipulations and require they be studied.

The amendment was adopted and eventually rolled into the larger 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law.

FMCSA went to work and began the mandated study.

Time rolled around for the 2016 appropriations bills, and language was included that attempted to hold FMCSA’s feet to the study fire on the restart provision. However, some language required to seal the deal didn’t make it into the final bill, either by omission or drafting error. That has put the future of the 34-hour restart into question.

“While there may have been mistakes made in drafting the provision, we think Congress made their feelings very, very well known in regard to the restart provision and the requirement for the overnight break,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said.

“We know the 34-hour restart is critical for safety, productivity, and flexibility, and we’re continuing to let Congress know just that.”

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