As seems to happen more and more frequently, on December 9, 2016, only minutes before they adjourned, The House and Senate passed a continuing resolution that would avert the shutdown of the Federal government, at least until April 28, 2017. The bill extended the funding for most of the federal agencies and programs, ensuring that they could continue.

As usual the bill also contains a number of seemingly unrelated provisions for an eclectic group of projects and programs. For example, there were provisions for funding for submarines, Apache and Black Hawk helicopters, continued FAA operations, and NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Program. One important inclusion was supplemental aid for the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Another was at least some temporary relief for retired miners who were going to lose health benefits on December 31.

There was one more that may not have seemed appropriate to the casual observer, but could be extremely important to the supply chain industry – a provision which requires the “Department of Transportation to follow the existing 34 – hour restart Hours of Service rule for truck drivers to ensure continuity in federal rest regulations, should the report on the rule (mandated in prior Acts) not meet the criteria set by Congress.”

To summarize the chronology, prior to 2013, drivers were required to take a 34-hour rest break, but could take it any time during a 7-day cycle. In 2013, the rule was changed to provide that they must take two consecutive breaks between the hours of 1:00 am and 5:00 am, supposedly based on evidence of “better rest” during that time frame. A 2015 funding law suspended that provision until a new study could be completed by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. That is the study the latest provision refers to and rolls the rule back to the pre – 2013 levels until it is completed.

This change has been a major goal of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and most truckers; and industry watchers expect the 1 – 5 am provision to go away for good. The consensus is that it was based on incomplete scientific information, and that the Virginia study will confirm that. Of course, this subject is controversial, but most truckers believe the old rules were the safest and more relevant to individual drivers. According to ATA President Chris Spear, “Reverting back to the pre – July 2013 restart shifts the emphasis back to safety by removing flawed data from the rulemaking process. The entire industry will now be able to comply with this rule thanks to a common sense approach championed by a bipartisan group of legislators.”

So far, there is no projected completion date for the current study.

Written By: Clifford F. Lynch