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On December 16 the president signed into a law a bill that suspended the controversial “restart” rule. The restart rule was implemented in July 2013 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and has been heavily criticized by the trucking industry ever since.

The FMCSA is required to perform a study and prove that the restart rule improves safety. The FMCSA is required to study two groups of drivers for 5 months, one using the restart rule and one not. If, and only if, the FMCSA can prove it does improve safety, the rule can be put back into place.

The Restart Rule

The restart rule applied only to drivers who had been on duty for seven full-time days in a row, driving 60/70 hours. The driver could only “restart” driving if 34 consecutive hours were taken off. The controversial part of the ruling, the part that has been suspended, was the requirement that this rest period include two 1 am to 5 am periods.

Drivers and trucking companies objected to this time-requirement provision because it was highly disruptive to business and driver scheduling. Drivers also complained that it tended to force truckers to restart driving during morning rush hours, a practice that actually decreased safety.

For example, hypothetical truck driver, Wilson, arrives home after a long haul at noon on Saturday. He rests until Monday morning, and then starts off again. Under the “restart rule” he can’t begin driving on Monday until after 5 am, which forces him to drive in the outskirts of a city right in the middle of rush hour. Without the “restart rule” he can pull out at 3 am on Monday and be well outside the city limits by rush hour. In both scenarios he has rested for much longer than the required 34 hours.

The Study

The FCMSA is supposed to select two representative, large groups of truckers for the study of the safety impacts of the restart rule. Instead of just measuring crashes and other obvious measures of safety, the agency is going to use special devices to measure the level of alertness and fatigue the drivers are experiencing. On-board video cameras, ActiGraph watches, and psychomotor vigilance tests are some of the tools that will be used to study the effect of the restart rule on drivers. The Department of Transportation’s General Inspector will oversee the study and make sure that it is done as fairly as possible.

This is an interesting situation – an agency being forced to prove its regulations is actually improving the common good. Everyone benefits from safe trucking but no one benefits from rules that don’t actually improve safety. We eagerly await the results of the FMCSA study.

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