The recent approval of the $56 billion transportation funding bill by the Senate Appropriations Committee is good news for the logistics industry. This funding will provide “$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”. However some of the largest carriers in the nation are opposed to the passing of this bill set to take effect in 2017.
The reason, a proposed new limit to the number of hours a driver can work in a week. All commercial drivers know and operate by the current maximum driving hours; either 60 hours over seven days or 70 hours over eight days. This new funding bill would like to add another provision to the current maximum hours of driving by limiting the total number of hours driven in a seven day period to 73 hours. On the surface for most drivers, this looks like it should not be an issue as they are currently already driving less than 60 hours in a seven day period or 70 in an eight day period. But what happens when a driver takes a restart option? If the driver maxes out the first half of the week and then does not work for 34 hours in order to reset his hours, this new law could still affect his ability to drive for the remainder of the seven days. This has never been the case before. After a reset, you have no carry over restrictions.
The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has been conducting a safety study regarding yet another provision in the spending bill passed at the end of 2015. This provision required two mandatory 30 minute rest breaks between 1 am and 5 pm for drivers working overnight. For drivers who only do their driving at night, this new provision was seen as a major change to their current operations. The study has been concluded, however the results have yet to be released. It will be interesting to see what this study found and if there is any data in this study that can correlate to this new issue.
The Trucking Alliance, a lobby representing commercial drivers and the trucking industry as a whole, has reasoned that the proposed limit of 73 hours could spread confusion among the industry. They have also argued that rule making authority over the industry should remain with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and not congress. Industry leaders would also like to hold off on making any new regulations and/ or restrictions until the end of 2017 when all interstate trucking companies are required to have electronic logging devices in their vehicles to verify hours-of-service compliance. These leaders contend that once these devices have been installed and this data has been collected, the FMCSA will be able to make a more educated decision regarding driver hours.
This new provision in the funding legislation takes on a new depth when one considers the recent implementation of the new FMCSA so-called “Driver Coercion Rule” which became effective on January 29th of this year. The coercion rule was put into place to restrict and penalize any carrier, shipper or 3PL who coerces a driver to violate certain provision of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The majority of this new rule focuses on driver hours and driver safety.
That rule initially came under fire as well from shippers and intermediaries when first proposed. The initial wording used language and legal theories in which shippers and 3PLs could have been viewed as employers of the drivers rather than the motor carriers for which the drivers work. With the language corrected the rule was enacted.
With the ongoing debate over mandatory rest, the driver coercion rule and now this new 73 hour provision, 2016 is shaping up to be a year of change for the trucking and logistics industry.