ATA, DOT working to fix “technical glitch” in HOS restart law

A law of unintended consequences is alive and well. Just ask trucking lobbyists and those inside the Department of Transportation working feverishly to fix what they describe as a “technical glitch” that threatens to scrap the entire law covering truck drivers’ hours of service.

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A law of unintended consequences is alive and well. Just ask trucking lobbyists and those inside the Department of Transportation working feverishly to fix what they describe as a “technical glitch” that threatens to scrap the entire law covering truck drivers’ hours of service.
 
Shippers, pay attention. This gets a bit technical. But failure to understand the fine print of the law might result in your freight being stranded because of it.
 
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. What appeared to be a victory for trucking lobbyists now threatens to scrap the entire hours of service law.
 
That’s because 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 viewed that requirement as burdensome and costly – and won a reprieve pending a thorough study now being completed by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Unless that study of more than 250 truck drivers can show a direct correlation between those rest breaks and trucking safety – which most observers say will be nearly impossible – that provision will be scrapped entirely.
 
Only one problem. The exact language of Section 133 of the omnibus spending bill 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.
 
As a result, ATA lobbyists are frantically working to head off what they fear could be a scrapping of the entire HOS law. The DOT says it is aware of the potentially calamitous situation and is prepared to “provide assistance as requested,” it says.
 
ATA is working to include corrective language in a must-pass piece of legislation that authorizes short-term funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. That law was scheduled to expire at the end of March. A House committee has already passed a FAA reauthorization bill. But that bill is not expected to be passed by the full Congress until the FAA authorization expires.
 
The situation obviously calls for some common sense from Congress, the affected agencies and the trucking industry. But as any Washington observer can testify, common sense is one measure that has been in short supply in the Nation’s Capital for quite some time.
 
Multiple pieces of congressional legislation are under consideration to fix the glitch. Trucking lobbyists say they will back whichever bill they believe has the best chance of passage. But in an election year often considered “the silly season” of American politics, that can be risky.

According to ATA, the DOT’s interpretation of the law could result in reverting to weekly work limits of 60 hours in seven days and 70 hours in eight days. Congress and the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have been tinkering with drivers’ HOS rules for the better part of 20 years.
 
Trucking industry executives say any changes to HOS – no matter what their apparent benefits – is costly to them. That’s because those changes require months of advancing planning, possibly adding potential costs in terms of additional equipment and drivers. Shippers also face the difficult situation of not knowing exactly how far and how long truck drivers can legally operate, affecting their Just-in-Time inventory planning and delivery schedules.
 
All sides say there is time to craft a common sense solution. The Virginia Tech HOS study has been completed, but not yet released. Until that happens, a stop-gap piece of legislation probably will be required to correct the confusing HOS language, lobbyists say.


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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Article Topics

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