House bill restricts tinkering with restart, carrier fitness ratings

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The status quo could be the name of the game for the voluntary 34-hour restart and carrier safety fitness determination procedures if language in the House version of the transportation funding bill passes into law.

Set for markup on Wednesday, May 18, the House of Representatives version of the 2017 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations legislation was released on Wednesday.

The base bill was drafted by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., chairman of the House’s appropriations subcommittee for transportation, housing and urban development and related agencies. Included in the bill is language addressing both the voluntary 34-hour restart and carrier safety fitness determination procedures.

34-hour restart
The House version of the THUD bill includes language that seeks to retain things as they are until a mandated study is released. That means that truck drivers would be able to continue using the 34-hour restart voluntarily to reset their weekly on-duty clocks as they have been – with no 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. overnight requirements or limitation on how often drivers can take 34 hours off to reset the on-duty clock.

The bill seeks to leave things as they are until the 2015 mandated study on the voluntary restart provision is released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That study is to determine what effect adding the mandatory overnight periods and restricting the use of the voluntary restart had on highway safety.

The House version of the restart “fix” varies greatly from the Senate’s version, which seeks to add an additional limitation on the bill, essentially generating a rolling seven-day week limit of 73 on-duty hours.

The Senate language is causing a great deal of confusion within the industry because, as written, it not only negates the effectiveness of a restart, but could also potentially be eliminating the current weekly on-duty limits.

With a 73-hour limit on on-duty time in seven days, that could be eliminating the 60 hours in seven days restriction effectively adding 13 hours to that time limit. It also would make the 70-hour limit in eight days irrelevant.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is pleased that the House version of the restart fix does not muddy the waters by changing the voluntary provision until the mandated study is complete.

“It simply makes the most sense to leave well enough alone and find out what the research says before the agency, or Congress, starts tinkering with the voluntary restart again,” said OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Laura O’Neill-Kaumo. “It’s very judicious of the House to avoid complicating things before we even know what, if anything, needs addressed.”

Carrier fitness ratings
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is plodding ahead with a proposed rule that would change how the agency issues motor carrier safety fitness ratings.

Currently, motor carriers receive a rating only following a full-blown compliance review. Following the review, the agency issues a safety rating of “satisfactory,” “conditional” and “unsatisfactory.”

The feds are proposing to change that and allow for automatic issuance of the safety ratings – determining whether a motor carrier is fit to operate and should remain in business – based on five of the seven scored BASICs or categories in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety measurement program, an investigation or a combination of CSA data and an investigation. The ratings would be issued monthly.

In the meantime, the FAST Act mandated reforms of the CSA program. A mandated review of the program is underway to determine whether the program does identify high-risk motor carriers and can predict crash risk. Based on that review, FMCSA is required to follow up to Congress with its plans to address any shortcomings.

The House THUD appropriations base bill has language that would prohibit FMCSA from moving forward with changing the safety fitness rating process until the FAST Act mandated review of CSA.

OOIDA, long critical of the CSA safety measurement program, is also pleased to see this provision in the THUD bill.

“CSA is a well-intentioned program that’s just not getting the job done,” O’Neill-Kaumo said. “You can’t build more enforcement programs on broken programs like CSA. When a system relies on the bad data going in, you’re only going to get bad data coming out.

“The House is, again, doing the right thing and waiting on the research before making any more changes that could potentially put good motor carriers out of business based off of bad data.”

Next steps
The THUD Appropriations bill is slated for markup before the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, Wednesday, May 18.

After that, there is still a long way to go for any appropriations bill to be signed into law.

Appropriations bills are passed annually and fund the government’s fiscal years from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30 of the following year. It is not common for appropriations bills to be completed and signed into law by Sept. 30.

The bill has to pass out of committee before it can be voted on by the full House. The House version of the appropriations bill would then likely have to be reconciled with the Senate version in a conference committee.

That’s if the appropriations bills, either all 12 or just part, are rolled into a giant omnibus bill to speed passage.

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