Here’s what I know about the possible changes to the 70 hour rules. A suspension of the 1am – 5am provision, and the 168 hour provision was in the $1.1 trillion omnibus law, which has now passed both the House and the Senate. It now sits on the President’s desk. He will sign it. I do not know when he will sign it, but it has to be by Wednesday December 17, or the government runs out of money.
The 1am – 5am and 168 hour provisions are suspended until either September 30, 2015 or the completion of a study done by FMCSA on the effectiveness of these provisions, whichever comes later. I am not 100% sure about this part, I have heard this reported differently in different places. Nevertheless, for now, it seems to make sense it will be 9/30/15, or whenever the study is done, whichever is later. It almost certainly will be when the study is done, as it is very doubtful FMCSA could complete this study in 9 months.
When does this become effective? When can you start using the old rules again? Well, I guess it depends on who you ask. Here is a link to an Overdrive article, with extensive quotes from Steve Keppler, of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). CVSA is basically an organization which represents all the roadside DOT cops. Keppler states that until the FMCSA publishes a rulemaking acknowledging and enacting the law which will become law as soon as Obama signs it, they will continue to enforce the 1am – 5am, and the 168 hour provisions.
Keppler points out the most states are enforcing state laws anyway, which will not be immediately changed by Obama’s signature on this law.
So, when can you go back to using the old rules, ie, a 70 hour reset anytime you get a 34 hour break? I think you would be totally justified in using the old rules upon Obama’s signature. At that point, it is the law, and the enforcement agencies are in a precarious legal position if they insist on enforcing something which has been explicitly suspended by the Congress and the President.
That being said, as Keppler has signaled, you may very well run into a cop at a scale who will insist on putting you Out of Service, and writing you a big ticket because your 34 hour reset was too close to a previous reset, even though that’s not the law anymore. This of course, falls under the principle that law enforcement, which includes FMCSA, can do anything. They can do whatever they want, interpret the law any way they want, almost entirely, and wholly without consequences.
Therefore, the safe answer is, you can start using the old rules once FMCSA puts out a rulemaking acknowledging the law change, and acknowledging that the 1am-5am and the 168 are in fact, suspended. Of course, this may take months, especially since FMCSA does not want to do this. If you want to be aggressive, you can start using the old rules as soon as Obama signs the bill into law. One final thought on this. Way back in the day, when I worked for FMCSA, if something like this happened, the leadership would put out an internal memo to all agency personnel very quickly, telling everyone not to keep enforcing whatever rule had just been changed. It is very possible that will happen again. However, considering who is running that place, you cannot assume that will be the case.