The voluntary 34-hour restart rule is a way for truckers to reset their workweek. The reset helps drivers comply with the federal DOT Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. Current hours of service rules say drivers can work no more than 60 consecutive hours in seven days or 70 consecutive hours in eight days. If a driver has several long workdays in a row, their work time may be limited later in the week. Taking a 34-hour off-duty period restarts the driver’s workweek to day one.
Why 34 Hours?
Driver fatigue is a major factor in fatal accidents. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conducted studies on driver alertness. They learned that the peak hours for driver fatigue were between midnight and 5 a.m. Also, driver fatigue increases with hours spent on the road. To reduce fatigue-related deaths and injuries, the (FMCSA) implemented hours-of-service regulations.
The 34-hour restart rule came about after a Department of Transportation (DOT) study. They discovered that a 34-hour break refreshed drivers, enabling them to return to full alertness. The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) is studying the practical application of the 34-hour restart to determine its effectiveness.
Untangling the 34-Hour Restart
A lot of controversy and confusion surround the 34-hour restart rule. The rule has been through multiple versions, partially suspended, and threatened by unclear language in a federal appropriations bill. The language enacted in July of 2013 mandated a 34-hour rest period after 70 hours of on-duty time in one week. Under 2013 rules, the rest break had to include two consecutive overnight periods (defined as 1-5 a.m.) Furthermore, truck drivers were only allowed to use the 34-hour restart once every 168 hours.
The 168-hour driving limit and overnight period provisions were suspended from December of 2014 until the end of September 2015. Congress ordered the FMCSA to conduct a study to see if the 34-hour restart reduced driver fatigue. The suspensions remain in effect until the results of the VTTI study are made public.
Currently, truck drivers have unlimited use of the 34-hour reset. The rest break does not have to contain two overnight periods. The 34-hour period may include sleeper berth time, consecutive off-duty hours, or a combination of both. However, drivers must still comply with all other HOS regulations.
Debunking Common Misconceptions
Many drivers have mistaken ideas about the 34-hour rule, perhaps because of the seesawing on the issue. Contrary to popular belief, drivers do not have to spend any of the 34 hours at home. However, you may spend part or all your break at home if desired.
The 34-hour reset is not mandatory either. It is completely voluntary. Drivers may use it at their discretion to prepare for a long work week.
Nearly Abolishing the 34-Hour Reset
A policy rider attached to a 2015 spending bill almost wiped out the 34-hour reset. The poorly written rider accidentally added requirements to the study Congress ordered. The wording also removed a provision that detailed which version of the 34-hour rule to use, based on the study results. Removing the rule could severely restrict driver hours, leaving the faulty language in place was not an option.
Fixing the Problem
Fortunately, Congress recently passed special legislation to fix the issue. The Senate passed the Continuing Resolution shortly before the midnight deadline. Had they gone past the deadline, it would have triggered a government shutdown. President Obama signed the Continuing Resolution into law not long after it passed the Senate.
The trucking-specific provision keeps the existing 34-hour reset rule in place, provided the Virginia Tech study does not meet Congressional criteria for change. In other words, the study must prove that the suspended provisions provide more benefits than the relaxed version of the rule. If it cannot, the stricter requirements remain suspended, and the current version stays in effect.
Latest on the 34-Hour Restart Rule
Whether the Resolution settles the issue depends on who you ask. The American Trucking Association (ATA) says yes. The organization insists the new legislation permanently removes both the dual consecutive overnight period and the once-per-week limit for the 34-hour restart.
The FMCSA’s Position
The FMCSA disputes these claims. Agency representatives insist that a final solution must follow the letter of the law. It all rests on a single technicality. When Congress ordered the study, the result awaited the study’s public release.
Scientific studies must undergo rigorous peer review before the science community accepts the results as fact. Although the study is complete, it is currently undergoing the review process. Since the findings have not been made public, FMCSA officials insist the issue remains unresolved.
The ATA remains confident that the suspended provisions are permanently dismissed. Officials cite the Continuing Resolution language, which places the burden of proof on the Virginia Tech study. According to the Resolution, the study must show “statistically significant improvement in all outcomes.” The areas addressed include driver health, longevity, fatigue, work schedules, and safety. The provisions cannot be reinstated if the study cannot prove a positive connection between the suspended provisions and all these areas.
Using the 34-Hour Reset
Since it is unlikely that the 34-hour reset study will meet the required criteria, drivers can continue following the current rules. If you are using a 34-hour restart, it is important to log your time correctly. Make sure the times you enter use the same time zone as your home terminal.
The 34-hour rule can be an efficient way to get on the road again without violating HOS requirements. Use it to your advantage. Several companies offer electronic logging apps to help you track your 34-hour restart. Although they may not satisfy the electronic logging device mandate, they can help you accurately record breaks and on-duty hours.