The Department of Transportation (DOT) rules designed to limit drivers’ hours and force stricter rest breaks was suspended earlier this year (2016) while the government waits for the DOT to actually prove the regulations improve public safety. When and if those rules will be reinstated is now in doubt thanks to movement in Congress to bypass the DOT through a number of policy riders that could be introduced as part of the next continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government funded for the near future.
The Hill reports that GOP lawmakers will likely introduce at least a number of policy riders when the new Congress convenes in 2017. They intend to push the riders they originally wanted to be included in this past September's CR, but which fell through under pressure from Democratic lawmakers.
The two most important riders would deal with hours of service rules and the role the individual states have in determining work weeks for truck drivers. The second may be more important than the first in that it would give the federal government more control over the trucking industry.
As things currently stand, CDL jobs in Texas can vary somewhat with those in Indiana or California, based on how the states choose to supplement federal regulations involving rest and meal breaks. That will change if one of the policy riders being sought by the House of Representatives makes it into the next CR.
Awaiting the DOT Analysis
Progress has been slow among legislators hoping to address hours of service rules as they wait on the DOT analysis. But the waiting has led to several questions. First, how long will it take the DOT to come up with definitive proof that their rules will actually make the road safer? And more importantly, what happens if their analysis reveals the rules are not effective?
The fear right now is that the failure of the DOT to make its case would result in a return to old rules that were initially put in place more than ten years ago. Those rules are not acceptable to lawmakers, either. They are hoping that introducing their policy riders to the next CR will provide a semi-permanent fix by sidestepping the DOT altogether.
What It Means for Truck Drivers
Current movement on Capitol Hill suggests that the briefly implemented DOT rules likely will not survive in their present form. All indications are pointing to an eventual scenario in which truck drivers will be able to work up to 73 hours per week without having to take consecutive overnight rest periods. Drivers also would not necessarily be forced to be on the road during the morning rush hour, when the likelihood of accidents goes up significantly.
Assuming Congress gets its way, independent contractors will be a bit more competitive thanks to more flexibility in their work schedules. Companies like C.R. England will also be able to take advantage of more generous drivers’ hours to better streamline their routing and delivery schedules.
Of course, safety advocates are not happy with Congress at this point. They believe failing to fully implement the DOT's hours of service rules jeopardizes both truck drivers and the public in general. They also are wary of states losing the ability to supplement DOT rules with additional rules of their own.
Such is the politics of the trucking industry. The good news is that the industry will continue thriving regardless of which direction Congress takes. That's good for you, as a truck driver. There is work available right now, and that's not likely to change anytime soon.