ANALYSIS: Drafting error causing confusion over restart provision

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 2/16/2016

It’s not uncommon when giant omnibus bills are passed by Congress, that there are hiccups and minor mistakes. But a drafting error in the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill passed this past December has put the future of the voluntary 34-hour restart provision in question.

Nearly two years ago, Sen. Susan Collins began setting the groundwork to introduce an amendment into the 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.

The amendment, which was eventually adopted and passed into law, suspended two provisions of the voluntary restart provision that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration added onto the regulations in 2013. The agency began requiring two overnight rest periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. during each restart and limited the use of the restart to once every 168 hours or seven days.

The provisions, according to the 2015 Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law, would remain suspended while the agency conducted a study into the safety benefits of the two overnight rest periods and the limitation on the use of the restart provision to once every seven days.

Fast-forward to December 2015 when the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill was signed into law. In a move that is not unprecedented, there was similar language to the 2015 bill on suspension of provisions of the restart. Typically repeating a legislative directive in an annual bill sends a message to an agency that their directed mission or objective has not been accomplished and Congress wants it done.

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. The DOT had not responded to a request from Land Line on the validity of the claims as of press time.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which supports the voluntary restart provision and the suspension of the 2013 restrictions on the use of the provision, remains hopeful that the apparent drafting error be resolved quickly.

“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.

When Congress began discussing the Collins amendment and throughout its adoption, Spencer said it wasn’t a tough sell for most lawmakers.

“It wasn’t a hard decision. Lawmakers could easily realize that restricting trucks during these overnight periods just put more trucks on the road when there was simply more traffic. It didn’t make sense.”
“It is unfortunate the study is taking as long as it is,” Spencer said. “In the end, absent there being some meaningful benefits directly tied to returning the restart provision that requires the overnight rest periods – and there won’t be – rolling back the requirement would just be nuts.”

In the meantime, OOIDA is advising members to continue operating as they have been for the past two years – with the ability to take a voluntary 34-hour restart, without two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods and as often as they want.

The last official action FMCSA took was via a notice in the Federal Register in December 2014, and that was removal of the restrictions on use of the voluntary restart, Spencer explained.

“Until we see something in print, making any change official, everyone needs to proceed as they have been. There’s no need to panic at this point until all interpretations and options are put on the table and a solution is reached,” Spencer said. “Altering your operations on a few media reports without an official action from the agency simply is not necessary.”

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