Delay of ELD mandate crops up in appropriations process

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 7/18/2017

Delivering the first potential congressional blow to the impending electronic logging mandate, the House Committee on Appropriations intends to direct the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to analyze a “full or targeted delay in the ELD mandate.”

Following a favorable 31-20 vote on the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill for fiscal year 2018 on Monday night, the committee issued an accompanying report that tackles the issue of a potential delay of the logging mandate.

“In light of the heavy burden of this mandate, especially on small carriers, the Committee directs the Department (of Transportation) to analyze whether a full or targeted delay in ELD implementation and enforcement would be appropriate and, if so, what options DOT has within its statutory authority to provide temporary regulatory relief until all ELD implementation challenges can be resolved,” the committee report states.

The committee report directs FMCSA to provide a report on its findings to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 60 days of enactment of the THUD act.

While report language does not necessarily carry the weight of law, it outlines the “intent of Congress” and directs actions by agencies. If the THUD bill fails to be passed into law, the report language would become useless. However, if it is rolled into an omnibus bill (a giant bill with several different agency appropriations bills included), it would be up to negotiators on the final bill as to what report language is included.

Beyond the ELD delay language in the report, four more trucking-related items of interest are included in the THUD legislation and report.

Ag hauler ELD exemption
The bill itself contains language that would exempt agricultural hauls of livestock and insects from using the electronic logging devices. The language has been questioned as to whether it applies to both loaded and unloaded operations, but remains intact following the committee’s vote.

However, in light of current exempting regulations on the books for livestock operations, the committee included some cautionary words in the accompanying report.

Drivers transporting “agricultural commodities,” including livestock, are exempt from the hours-of-service regulations while operating within 150 air-miles of the source of such commodities. The committee correctly noted that livestock haulers sometimes make deliveries well beyond the exempt zone.

“On these trips, (livestock haulers) may exceed the 11- and 14-hour limits, even though their HOS ‘clock’ does not start until they go beyond the 150 air-mile radius,” committee members noted in the report.

“The Committee directs FMCSA to balance the welfare of livestock and the risks of driver fatigue on trips beyond the exempt zone and to pay close attention to the special circumstances of agricultural transporters. FMCSA shall continue using its regulatory tools to grant relief that appropriately reconciles highway safety with the unique needs of these carriers and their living cargo.”

Paid meal and rest breaks
Language included in the THUD bill targets paid meal and rest breaks for truck drivers. As written, the language would prohibit states (like California) from mandating paid meal and rest breaks.

It also includes some language that could target other traditionally non-compensated time in which truckers do work, such as detention time or loading and unloading.

The bill reported to the full House follows up the prohibition on paid meal and rest breaks with language that prevent states from “imposing any additional obligations on motor carriers if such employees work to the full extent or at such times as permitted under such section, including any related activities.”

The accompanying report language also appears to target the mandatory 30-minute rest breaks imposed by FMCSA.

The committee at first appears to applaud the logic behind the mandatory rest break in ensuring that drivers are not driving more than eight hours without a 30-minute break. But then the language takes a turn saying drivers with multiple stops are getting rest on those stops.

“Drivers that make multiple stops throughout the day and are working during those non-driving periods, including the loading and unloading of products to be delivered, are experiencing routine breaks from driving while performing on-duty activities. When evaluating exemption requests, the Committee encourages FMCSA to consider: (1) the safety benefits of making routine stops during the day, (2) the safety benefits of drivers remaining physically active during non-driving periods, and (3) the safety implications of adding additional vehicle miles operated to the road if exemptions are not granted.”

Safety Fitness Determinations
The bill also contains language that prevents FMCSA from proceeding with Safety Fitness Determinations until the DOT Office of Inspector General certifies all deficiencies have been addressed. The plan was, in part, to tie ratings of motor carriers to their Compliance, Safety Accountability data and safety rankings automatically. Because CSA has so many problems, this proposal has been panned on many levels, and again in this bill.

Earlier this year, FMCSA rescinded the rulemaking to add the safety labels to motor carriers and has not indicated an attempt to review it.

And, while the legislative language taps the brakes on the public rating of motor carriers based in part on CSA, the committee report breaks from that thinking.

“The Committee believes that, as important safety partners, motor carrier insurers should have the same access to (CSA) data as the motor carriers they insure,” the report states.

“The Committee therefore urges FMCSA to implement appropriate credentialing that will allow insurers or potential insurers of motor carriers access to (the) data.”

That means even though the public can’t get to your motor carrier data, the committee wants your insurance carrier to have access to data.

Heavier trucks
Finally, even with the crumbling infrastructure and continued shortfalls on funding, the House Appropriations Committee has included language to allow trucks with a gross vehicle weight on 129,000 pounds on the interstates in North Dakota. That would make North Dakota the second state to allow 129,000-pound weight limits. The first was Idaho.

No further commentary on that subject was included in the committee’s report.

What’s next?
Next steps for the bill will include a possible debate followed by a vote by the full House. The Senate will also work on similar funding legislation. When both chambers pass similar bills the differences are hammered out in committee. The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30. It’s not common for all appropriations bills to pass before those deadlines, but it’s not impossible.

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