Mercifully for the trucking industry, the most controversial part of rules implemented in July 2013 governing commercial truck drivers' hours of service may have breathed its last.
The so-called "restart" provision, which restricted the number of times drivers could reset their workweek cycles during a 168-hour period and ordered that the restart period include two separate stops between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., was provisionally gutted by Congress when it passed a continuing resolution late Friday to fund the federal government through next April 28. President Obama signed the bill into law Saturday morning.
The final blow to the restart provision could come when the Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) releases a study determining whether the 2013 rules had any positive impact on driver safety. The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the trucking trade group that has lobbied aggressively to kill the provision, said the FMCSA study is very likely to conclude that there are no benefits to it, thus returning the re-start language to its status before July 1, 2013, when the provision took effect. It is unclear when the study will be released.
Under the old rule, drivers were required to take a 34-hour rest break, but could do so at any time during a 7-day cycle. They were also not mandated to pull off the road between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., a restriction that the trucking industry argued had forced many drivers onto crowded highways during early-morning rush-hour commutes.
ATA had argued that the 2013 restart language—which Congress suspended in 2014—was based on incomplete scientific evidence. In a statement Saturday, ATA said pushing drivers onto highways during the early daytime hours resulted in an increase in crashes due to greater congestion. It did not provide data in the release to support that claim, however.
"The restart is an important tool for drivers, not to maximize driving time, but to have the flexibility to maximize off-duty time and time at home, and we are pleased that drivers will continue to have unrestricted access to it," ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in the statement.