Last week President Obama signed into law the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015. One of the last pieces of legislation passed by the 113th Congress, this 1700 plus page bill allocated $1.1 trillion to keep the federal government open for business until September of 2015. Except for those of us working in, or interested in the supply chain, it was simply another last ditch effort to keep the government financially solvent. In keeping with Congressional tradition however, buried in this mega-bill was a totally unrelated provision – an amendment authored by Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican that suspended the truckers 2013 restart rule until a mandated FMCSA study is completed.
The 2013 rule, as it existed until last week, required drivers to include two 1:00 am to 5:00 am rest periods in their 34 hour restart, and limited restarts to one a week. Reverting to the old, pre-2013 rule will effectively allow drivers to log 82 hours rather than 70 hours per week. Other rules and limitations will remain the same.
The law also dictates that the FMCSA complete a thorough study of both versions of the restart rule and make a much more comprehensive and evidence supported recommendation than has been made in the past. Actually, there will be two studies – one by the DOT and another by the DOT Inspector General. The revision has had strong support from the American Trucking Associations since the 2013 rule was established, arguing that it will increase productivity with no negative impact on safety. The DOT, FMCSA, and others have maintained that the new rules reduced driver fatigue and improved safety. However, there is no real validation that this is correct. Lest there be any misunderstanding, drivers still will be required to take adequate rest periods, but at a time of their own choosing.
As far as shippers are concerned, this increase in productivity will help alleviate driver shortages and should improve service since more drivers will be available both day and night.
The suspension will not be lifted until the reports are completed, and in no case not before September 30, 2015. It is impossible to predict what conclusions will be reached, but I believe it is safe to say that controversy will closely follow the release of the reports no matter what they say.