Latest bill on HOS/ELDs may hint at what FMCSA is talking about on its listening tour

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The latest bill to be introduced in Congress dealing with Hours of Service and ELDs takes on directly what appears to be a growing consensus that the area most ripe for change is the 14-hour rule.

Three members of the House of Representatives--two Republicans and one Democrat--are planning to introduce the HOURS Act, or the Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety Act. As of presstime, the bill was not available through Congress' online archive of legislation.

At this late stage in Congress, with midterm elections just five months away, few observers expect any legislation regarding anything--including trucking--to get through the process and become law. There have been other ELD-related bills introduced in recent weeks. 

The bill to be introduced by Rick Crawford (Republican-Arkansas), Sanford Bishop (Democrat-Georgia) and Bruce Westerman (Republican-Arkansas) has four key components.

Most intriguing is that it seeks to put legislative backing behind an ongoing "listening tour" that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is conducting to study the impact of ELDs and possible modifications to the HOS rules. 

According to a statement of support issued by the American Trucking Associations, the bill would "accelerat(e) the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's already-in-progress efforts to provide flexibility in how drivers who take off-duty periods in sleeper berths split their rest time."

FMCSA has not been that specific in revealing what it is discussing in the listening tours which often feature the chief administrator, Raymond Martinez. Still, a focus in these talks reportedly has been to seek the ability for a driver taking a lengthy rest break and using a truck's sleeper berth--like in a several-hour detention--to stop the 14-hour clock. Sources said the inclusion of this language in the Crawford proposal could be a sign that talks on that issue are heating up, and a legislative fix may be considered alongside any regulatory changes.

The other provisons in the proposed legislation, according to the ATA statement on it, are as follows:

--Exempt drivers hauling livestock and agricultural products from the HOS rules is they are within 150 miles of the source of what they are hauling. FMCSA recently announced new guidance for that activity.

--Exempting shorthaul drivers from ELD mandates if they operate "exclusively" within 150 air-miles of their reporting location, while still being limited to 14 hours.

--Cutting down on the number of documents that need to be produced by drivers "to only verify the start and end time of a driver's daily on-duty period."

In the ATA statement, the group's president and CEO Chris Spear said, "Congressmen Crawford, Westerman and Bishop have provided a roadmap for improving the current hours-of-service rules, while maintaining the safety of our highways. This narrow and targeted relief would improve the lives of millions of professional drivers and we ask Congress to support it."