After several weeks of “Safer at Home” mode and difficulties accessing increasingly limited necessities, the essential nature of commercial truck drivers has been brought to the forefront. While our government and health officials consider multi-phase plans to restore the economy, the country’s commercial truck drivers continue to keep the economy moving.
On April 17, 2020, several shipping and trucking companies were honored at the White House and praised for how much their work has kept the country from falling apart. "The whole country is cheering you on," Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said of the truckers. "Without you, it would be impossible to keep our economy moving and get food, medical equipment, and essential supplies to where they need to be."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 on March 13, 2020 and expanded the Order on March 18, 2020 to alleviate regulatory restrictions for commercial carrier providing emergency assistance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally set to expire on April 12, 2020, The FMCSA has extended Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 and associated regulatory relief in accordance with 49 CFR § 390.25 through May 15, 2020.
Most notably, the Emergency Declaration 2020-002 provides relief from regulations which limit drivers’ Hours of Service (HOS) to no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour period. Commercial motor vehicle operations remain exempt from the HOS requirements if they are providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, including transportation to meet immediate needs for:
(1) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19;
(2) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants;
(3) food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;
(4) immediate precursor raw materials -- such as paper, plastic or alcohol -- that are required and to be used for the manufacture of items in categories (1), (2) or (3);
(6) liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems;
(7) equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19;
(8) persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and
(9) persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.
Direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration.
The FMCSA’s extension of the Emergency Order clarifies that commercial motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to the pandemic emergency are NOT granted relief from the following FMCSA regulations:
1. 49 CFR § 392.2 related to the operation of a commercial motor vehicle in accordance with State laws and regulations, including compliance with applicable speed limits and other traffic restrictions.
2. 49 CFR § 392.3 related to operation of a commercial motor vehicle while a driver's ability or alertness is so impaired.
3. Motor carriers shall not require or allow fatigued drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicle. A driver who informs a carrier that he/she needs immediate rest shall be given at least ten consecutive hours before the driver is required to return to service.
4. A motor carrier whose driver is involved in a crash while operating under this emergency declaration must report any recordable crash within 24 hours, by phone or in writing, to the FMCSA Division Office where the motor carrier is domiciled. The carrier must report the date, time, location, driver, vehicle identification, and brief description of the crash.
5. Nothing in this Emergency Declaration shall be construed as an exemption from the controlled substance and alcohol uses and testing requirement (49 CFR Part 382), the commercial driver’s license requirements (49 CFR Part 383), the financial responsibility (insurance) requirements (49 CFR Part 387), the hazardous material regulations (49 CFR Parts 100-180), applicable size and weight requirements, or any other portion of the regulations not specifically exempted under 49 CFR § 390.23.
6. Motor carriers or drivers currently subject to an out-of-service order are not eligible for the relief granted by this declaration until they have met the applicable conditions for its rescission and the order has been rescinded by FMCSA in writing.
7. Direct assistance terminates when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo or provide services that are not in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce. (49 CFR § 390.23(b)).