73-hour, seven-day workweek limit set by Senate panel for truck drivers

Truck drivers hours of service limits may be tweaked under a fiscal 2017 transportation funding bill passed by an influential Senate appropriations committee this spring. Under the move spearheaded by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the legislation set a 73-hour cap as the allowable hours per seven-day work week that truck drivers may work before taking a break.

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73-hour, seven-day workweek limit set by Senate panel for truck drivers

Truck drivers’ hours of service limits may be tweaked under a fiscal 2017 transportation funding bill passed by an influential Senate appropriations committee this spring.

Under the move spearheaded by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, the legislation’s 73-hour cap does not make any changes to the current maximum mandatory hours a commercial truck driver can drive in a given week without taking a restart: 60 hours in 7 days and 70 hours in 8 days. Once a driver takes a 34-hour restart—the 73-hour cap precludes the possibility that any driver could drive after having worked 73 hours. In short, drivers have to take a break (34 hour restart) when they hit 60 hours in 7 days or 70 hours in 8 days.

Collins oversees transportation funding measures as chair of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee (T-HUD). The funding measure was part of a $56 billion transportation funding bill approved by a 30-0 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The 73-hour cap is in the bill that passed out of Committee 30-0 and that will be considered on the Senate floor next week.

Because it’s an election year, it’s likely a continuing resolution will be passed soon. But whether that CR specifically addresses the HOS issue is unclear.
To underscore how divisive the issue is even within the trucking industry, a group of trucking companies has taken the unusual step in urging Congress to delete the proposed 73-hour, 7-day workweek provision.
The Trucking Alliance, which includes such large truckload carriers a Swift Transportation (the largest TL carrier with $4 billion in revenue) and flatbed giant Maverick Transportation, says the 73-hour provision is bad for the following reasons:
-Congress has mandated that interstate trucking companies install electronic logging devices (ELDs) by December 2017 to verify truck driver hours-of-service compliance. The statistical data produced by this technology should guide future changes in truck driver hours of service rules, rather than a political decision by Congress;
-the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) should keep its rule making authority over all aspects of truck driver hours of service rules. Codifying any part of the rule, as this language does, would make it virtually impossible for the FMCSA to change the rule, if ELD data show adjustments to the rule are necessary to reduce truck driver fatigue; and
-the proposed 73-hours in a 7-day period would create widespread confusion throughout the industry, since drivers operate under either a 60-hour/7 days limit or a 70-hour/8 days limit currently;
-the mandatory maximums (60 hours in 7 days, 70 hours in 8 days) are unchanged by the cap, as are the mandatory rest periods and mandatory daily off duty times. If a driver uses the restart, the cap would preclude the possibility that they could drive after having worked more than 73 hours in a week. Under current law, there is no cap related to hours of service—and while it’s improbable, it is possible that a driver could get behind the wheel after having worked 80 hours

At issue is language contained in the federal omnibus spending bill passed in the final hours of the 2015 Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last December. That spending bill was intended to scrap only the provision that truck drivers working overnight would be required to take at least two 30-minute rest breaks between 1 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The trucking lobby won a reprieve pending a thorough study now being completed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. That study has been completed, but not released.
Under Section 133 of the omnibus spending bill, the fine print did not include a provision “specifically stipulating” that the industry would continue to operate under the old restart rules if the study does not show significant benefits from the new restrictions, according to the American Trucking Associations.
That provision would allow drivers to “reset” their work weeks after taking 34 hours off. A driver using so-called 34-hour restart provision would still be subject to the 73-hour driving limit over seven days.
That HOS 34-hour restart provision, which calls for consecutive 1 a.m.-to-5 a.m. rest periods, has been suspended since last December, pending a safety review. The FY 2016 funding bill sought to enhance the restart review’s objectives.
The American Trucking Associations lobbied for the hours-of-service language to be included in the fiscal 2017 funding bill. However, safety advocates such as The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety had opposed the measure, accusing the trucking industry of going behind closed doors to get the language included.
The FY 2017 funding bill also would require the Department of Transportation to advance a rule on speed limiters for trucks. Some truckers are backing speed limiters, but not all. Specifically, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) is against the speed limiter provision.
A segment of the trucking industry backs a proposal requiring speed limiters. Overall, the fiscal 2017 funding legislation would provide nearly $900 million for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, $644 million for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s safety initiatives, as well as $525 million for infrastructure grants.
“This bipartisan bill makes important investments in our nation’s infrastructure,” Sen. Collins said. And Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, added, “The new funding and policies in this bill will help improve the safety of our roads.”

About the Author

John D. Schulz
John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis.

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