Restart provision tweak pops up in Senate transportation funding bill

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 4/22/2016

A potential limit to the effectiveness of the 34-hour restart is included in the 2017 transportation appropriations bill awaiting consideration in the Senate.

Passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday, April 21, the funding bill includes a provision that clarifies what will happen to the 34-hour restart depending on the results of a study of the voluntary provision mandated by Congress.

The study is to determine whether the voluntary provision without requiring two 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnight periods and limiting to once every 168 hours or seven days is safer than without those stipulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is nearing completion of the study that was mandated in the 2015 appropriations bills.

The 2016 appropriations bill included similar language mandating the study, in what could be viewed as an attempt to double down on Congress’ directive to FMCSA. However, a drafting error left off some key language on what would happen to the 34-hour restart dependent on the outcome of the study.

The appropriations bill now awaiting consideration by the full Senate clarifies that. If the restart provision with the required overnight periods and limited use to once every 168 hours is not inherently safer than the voluntary restart without the requirements, the 34-hour restart minus the requirements will remain in effect.

The language, however, does not stop there. It also includes a rolling 73-hour limit of on-duty time for any seven day period. That includes the days before and after any voluntary 34-hour restart.

While the voluntary restart would reset the current on-duty time limits of 60 hours in seven days or 70 hours in eight days back to zero, the 73-hour limit remains a hard limit and does not zero out with the restart.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association government affairs team continues to review and weigh the implications of the proposed legislative language and cautions against making any assumptions that the change is a done deal.

The appropriations bill with the restart language awaits consideration before the full Senate. Appropriations bill, while done annually, are notoriously passed well after their Sept. 30 annual deadline. Commonly, the 12 appropriations bills funding all the different agencies of the federal government are even rolled into a giant “omnibus” bill and passed altogether. The 2016 appropriations bill didn’t get passed and signed into law until December 2015.

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