Fix in place to keep 34-hour restart as is for now, pending bill passage

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 12/7/2016

Whether you remember it or not, the 34-hour restart was up in the air for the vast majority of 2016. But it looks as if truck drivers who are fans of using the voluntary provision can breathe a sigh of relief – at least for now.

Leadership of the House of Representatives released their version of a continuing resolution to keep government agencies funded through late April 2017. In the bill is a provision that removes all doubt about the 34-hour restart.

The 34-hour restart will remain as is until a study into the voluntary provision is released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The long-term future of the restart would now depend solely on the agency’s findings.

“Seeing a 34-hour restart language fix in the last appropriations bill is a huge relief,” said Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, director of government affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “We are happy to see that Congress’ original intent to retain the original 34-hour restart, while studying the effectiveness of changes tacked onto it at one point, prevailed in this continuing resolution.

The voluntary 34-hour restart provision has been a hot topic in Congress for a couple of years now. Sen. Susan Collins led a push back in 2014 to suspend two controversial add-ons to the 34-hour restart provision. Her efforts led to the suspension of the requirement that each restart contain two overnight 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and restrictions on using the restart more than once every seven days.

OOIDA was supportive of Collins’ efforts in temporarily repealing the restrictions included in the 34-hour restart. The Association contends that the tack-on restrictions did not improve the safety benefit of the voluntary provision and were unnecessary.

Opponents of removing the restrictions contended that using the restart provision allows drivers to work more than 80 hours in a week – a point that OOIDA refutes.

Those suspensions took place in the 2015 appropriations language. While the suspensions were in place, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was directed to study the restart provision’s effectiveness on safety – comparing the effectiveness of the rule with the overnight provisions and limit to once every seven days to the rule without.

FMCSA had not completed the study when Congress drafted the 2016 appropriations bills and eventually the large omnibus bill that was signed into law. What has been called a “drafting error” by Beltway insiders put the entire voluntary provision in jeopardy. Regardless of what the study determined on the restart, the voluntary provision would have had to be removed following release of the study.

Buying time for Congress to resolve the situation, FMCSA’s study on the restart provision still has not been released, allowing for the new language in the House’s continuing resolution language.

In order for the restart “fix” to take effect, the language proposed in the House’s continuing resolution must pass both the House and Senate intact and be signed into law. The resolution is expected to clear both chambers just in time to avoid a government shutdown on Friday.

If it passes, the fate of the 34-hour restart will hinge on the findings of FMCSA’s study. Once the study is released, if it determines that requiring two overnight rest periods and restricting restarts to once every seven days is basically safer in reducing driver fatigue, improving driver health and work schedules, the agency can add the two restrictions back to the restart provision.

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