Spending bill halts trucker scheduling rules

Spending bill halts trucker scheduling rules
© Getty Images

The $1.8 trillion year-end government funding and tax deal rolls back controversial rules for truck driver scheduling that have been at the center of a fight between truck companies and safety advocates in Washington. 

The rules, enacted in July 2013, require truck drivers be given time off the job between 1 and 5 a.m. on consecutive nights as part of a 34-hour gap that is required before they start a new workweek. 

The rules were put in place by the Obama administration in an effort to combat driver fatigue. They also require that truck drivers work no more than 11 hours in a day and 70 hours in a week and be allowed to take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of their shift. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Trucking companies have argued the rules, known as "restart" requirements, were put in place prematurely by Transportation Department regulators in the Obama administration before their impacts were properly studied.

The government funding bill, which is commonly referred as an omnibus package, prohibits the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) from enforcing the scheduling rules until the agency restudies their impact on the trucking industry. 

Safety groups complained about the inclusion of the changes to truck driver scheduling rules in the government funding bill. 

"Requiring a truck driver to work up to 82 hours per week will only cause more fatigue related truck crashes, and, in turn, more injuries and deaths," Truck Safety Coalition Executive Director John Lannen said in a statement.

"Rather than acquiescing to industry demands, Congress should be making data-driven decision," Lannen continued. "We hope that the release of the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Final Rule will help law enforcement isolate bad actors and help the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) obtain better data on truck driver fatigue." 

Trucking companies have been pushing to attach the provisions rolling back the scheduling rules to transportation-related measures for several years. They declared victory on Wednesday after the changes were tucked into the broad tax and government spending bill. 

“We’re pleased that in the omnibus spending compromise released today, Congress has seen fit to demand that FMCSA ‘show its work,’ before imposing unnecessary and onerous restrictions on the use of the 34-hour restart by commercial drivers,” American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said in a statement. 

“FMCSA foisted these restrictions on the industry without doing a proper investigation into how they might impact trucking safety and truck drivers’ health and longevity, so it is completely appropriate for Congress to establish a safety and health standard,” Graves continued. 

The effort to change the nation's truck driver scheduling rules became controversial after a 2014 accident involving comedian Tracy Morgan, who was badly injured in a crash involving a vehicle that was hit by a truck in New Jersey. 

Safety groups have chided Congress for making changes to trucking regulations in unrelated spending measures like the Omnibus package. 

"Moving forward, we hope that Members of Congress will no longer try to use the appropriations process as a back door to advance industry-backed agendas," the Truck Safety Coalition's Lannen said. 

"Policies that affect the safety and well being of the public should be subject to open debate, research, and analysis," he continued.

Trucking groups, meanwhile, applauded Congress for siding with them in the dispute over the validity of the transportation department's research on driver fatigue. 

"We greatly appreciate Congress’ attention into this important matter and their insistence that FMCSA properly vet and support the rules they promulgate,” ATA Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy Dave Osiecki said.