The 34-hour Restart Rule has been a highly confusing part of recent changes to Federal commercial carrier Hours of Service (HOS) laws. Industry professionals, along with trucking accident lawyers and many others, have found confusing language in changes made to the 34-Hour Restart Rule, which was designed to help reduce trucking accidents by ensuring drivers do not work too much.
Unclear directives and an important omission have caused trucking accident attorneys to question the interpretation of the law based on the way the bill was written. Fortunately, this issue was recently clarified by Congress.
Improper Language Affects Execution of Restart
The problem arose in December 2015 when the 2016 Omnibus Funding bill, signed by President Obama, required a study of the 34-Hour Restart Rule. This was in response to an order by Congress to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA). This order indefinitely suspended enforcement of 2013 changes to the 34-Hour Restart Rule until studies were done to determine whether the rule was actually useful in reducing trucking accidents.
These controversial changes included a mandatory 34-hour restart after every 168 HOS and two (2) 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. rest periods within that time. Yet according to the American Trucking Association (ATA) and trucking accident lawyers who followed this issue, the bill did not include instructions for what should happen once these studies were completed.
As the bill was written, it indicated that the suspension of the new 34-Hour Restart was only to be lifted if safety studies revealed a positive result. What it did not say was that if the results were not positive, the current 34-Hour Restart rule should stay in effect.
As interpreted legally by industry and trucking accident attorneys, the unclear language in the bill stated that if there were no positive findings after the safety studies, the entire 34-Hour Restart Rule was to be discontinued altogether.
Implications of Omission Concerning
Most trucking accident lawyers would agree the problem with the erroneous and missing language in the Omnibus bill is that it leaves the potential of doing away with the 34-Hour Restart Rule. This rule states that truck drivers must have a 34-hour rest period at the end of their weekly time clock and that action also marks the start of a new work week.
This rest period is critical in ensuring that drivers get the rest they need to stay focused and remain alert on the job, thereby reducing the chance they will be involved in trucking accidents. Complete removal of the rule would result in difficulty enforcing HOS laws and ensuring that drivers get enough rest.
Congress Sets Record Straight
On December 9, 2016, Congress finally clarified the issue by instating a Continuing Resolution with specific language to correct the omissive Hours of Service bill. The resolution to the bill now states that if safety studies do not meet Congressional requirements for upholding the 2013 changes to the 34-Hour Restart Rule, the current rule must stay in place.
While the FMSCA is working on these studies, the industry is following the Rule as it applied prior to 2013.
Although there is still much controversy over the proposed changes to HOS rules, trucking accident attorneys now understand what will happen once the FMSCA’s safety studies have been completed. If these studies indicate that the stricter 2013 changes to the 34-Hour Restart Rule are beneficial in preventing trucking accidents, Congress will likely pass the changes into law.
If the study is inconclusive or the issue demands additional research, trucking accident lawyers at least know that the current law will remain in place!
Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP
Robert W. Hildebrand, Attorney at Law
J. Daniel Wilson, Attorney at Law
7830 Broadway, Suite 122
Pearland TX 77581
Phone: (281) 410-5810