Off the Clock: What the Government Shutdown Means for New FMCSA Hours-of-Service Regulations

01.31.19

Despite the recent reopening of the U.S. government after the longest shutdown in history, many industries continue to feel the pinch caused by furloughed workers and absent paychecks. Luckily, given that funding for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Federal Highway Administration (FHA) primarily comes from the collection of gas and diesel taxes by the Highway Trust Fund rather than from congressional appropriations, the trucking industry has escaped relatively unscathed. The FMCSA was able to continue performing inspections, issue CDLs, etc., and FMCSA and FHA workers were paid on schedule. However, the same cannot be said of the schedule for proposed revisions to the FMCSA's hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

This past fall, the FMCSA began the rulemaking process to reform the current HOS regulations limiting driving hours for commercial truck drivers. The proposed changes include: (1) extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to 2 hours for truck drivers encountering adverse driving conditions, (2) revising the current mandatory 30-minute break for truck drivers after 8 hours of continuous driving, (3) expanding the current 100-air-mile "short-haul" exemption from 12 hours-on-duty to 14 hours, thus matching long-haul drivers, and (4) reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers operating trucks with sleeper berths. These changes address driver safety, as well as alleviate unnecessary burdens on drivers.

While the FMCSA initially hoped to "fast track" these revisions toward completion within a year from their introduction, the government shutdown has made that trajectory veritably impossible.

The nearly 20,000 furloughed U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) workers included nearly a third of the DOT's Office of the Secretary and two-thirds of the Office of Management and Budget. These two agencies must review and approve any HOS regulations before they can go into effect. With the loss of manpower due to the shutdown, the review process is at a standstill. Originally, the FMCSA's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the new HOS regulations was scheduled for March 2019, with a final rule to be in place by September. Now, even with the (temporary?) reopening of the government, these agencies have a backlog of matters on their desks that will further delay the approval of the HOS regulations.

Comment: While the government shutdown has not seriously affected the day-to-day operations of the FMCSA or FHA, it has significantly delayed the review and approval of the proposed HOS amendments, which now will not reach a final rule until the end of 2019 at the earliest.

For more information, please contact Patrick J. Downey at pdowney@wglaw.com or 267.765.4126.

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Jennifer R. Williams 
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