How Does the HOS Suspension End?
By now, most have heard of the suspension of the hours of service (HOS) rules that was included in Congress’s end of year federal funding bill. Senator Collins led a successful effort to suspend two provisions that had gone into effect in July 2013:
- The 34-hour restart could only be used once a week
- Two 1:00-5:00 a.m. time periods must be included in the 34-hour restart
Looking forward, however, does the suspension end or become permanent? Here are some questions and answers:
If nothing else happens, do the rules automatically revert back to the July 2013 HOS rules?
The suspension is effective until September 30, 2015, or until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) submits a formal restart study directed by Congress, whichever is later. During this potential “gap” the suspension would remain in effect.
Under what process do the current rules (suspension) become permanent?
Only by an act of Congress.
Does the HOS suspension end immediately upon the release of the study, regardless of the study conclusions?
Yes, technically that is what is in the December 2014 legislation. But many industry observers are expecting Congress to address this issue in the highway/infrastructure bill that runs out of funding at the end of May 2015.
It appears that a game of chicken or egg has been set up—Congress will want to address the issue of HOS directly in this iteration of the highway/infrastructure bill; however, policymakers will want to wait until the study is released to see the results. That leads to the following potential scenarios:
- Congress passes a highway/infrastructure bill this summer and does not address HOS because the study has not been completed. Then the study is completed after September 2015 and the July 2013 HOS rules are automatically back in place.
- Congress passes a highway/infrastructure bill this summer and the study has not been released. Congress extends the suspension into 2016 in hopes that the study is completed.
- Congress passes a short-term highway/infrastructure bill (3-12 months) and delays the decision to address HOS in the legislative process. The HOS study is completed after September 2015 and the HOS suspension ends for a time period until Congress can pass a long-term highway/infrastructure bill with the HOS issue in the bill.
As you can see, Congress appears incented to wait until the study is done to act while FMCSA could be viewed as incented to wait until Congress acts to release the study. This leaves the freight transportation industry waiting and potentially frustrated later this year over uncertainty. One thing is certain: There are many moving pieces that will have to be resolved in order to achieve permanency over HOS rules beyond September 30, 2015.