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34 Hour Restart; Other Legislative Rumblings

In the last few weeks, there have been rumblings in Washington that might lead to regulatory changes for truckers.

In a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee on June 30, representatives from the FMCSA and the trucking industry sparred over current safety regulations. The primary bone of contention, not surprisingly, was the 34 Hour Restart, a rule that took effect one year ago and limited the number of hours in a week that drivers can operate. Competing proposals before the Senate include one from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) that would put the 34 Hour Restart on hold until research into its effect was completed. On the other hand, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has proposed a bill that would keep the Restart in place permanently. Not surprisingly, truckers and trucking industry advocates remain unsatisfied with the 34 Hour Restart rules, which they suggest puts more trucks on the road during higher traffic times (and are actually less safe).

One way to adjust to the 34 Hour Restart Rules / CC BY-SA 3.0 by Fourthords

One way to adjust to the 34 Hour Restart Rules / CC BY-SA 3.0 by Fourthords

Another issue mentioned during the July 30 hearing, by Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, concerned the FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing rates. According to the FMCSA’s regulations (in 49 C.F.R. 382), though the initial required rate for drug and alcohol testing was 50% of the average number of drivers per year, the testing rate can be reduced to 25%. That is, if the trucking industry as a whole passes the random tests more than 99% of the time for two years, the head of the FMCSA may lower the rate of testing. Though the industry has passed the test each of the last two years, the rate of testing remains at 50%. As Sen. Blunt suggested, “there’s some point where that number goes down to 25%.”

Both of these topics arose in the wake of the resignation of Anne Ferro, the FMCSA chief, announced July 25 and effective at the end of August. Ferro’s tenure was marked by a notable increase in regulations aimed at promoting safety (including both of those discussed above, and the “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” program, which has had some notable issues of its own). The industry will undoubtedly watch closely as Ms. Ferro’s successor is chosen, and as Congress deliberates over the state of trucking regulations.

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