The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the U.S. trucking industry, has waived rules limiting how many hours long-haul commercial truck drivers may drive while they are delivering emergency supplies or personnel who are helping manage the COVID-19 outbreak.
An emergency declaration by the FMCSA suspends safety rules in Parts 390 through 399 of FMCSA regulations through May 15, 2020, with several exceptions. Most of the focus has been on Hours of Services (HOS) regulations (Part 395). Normally, HOS regulations restrict truck drivers to driving a maximum of 11 hours within a 14-hour work period. They must then log 10 hours of off-duty time.
The suspension of the hours of service limits allows truckers to stay on the front lines of the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. It also increases the risk of fatigued truck drivers causing accidents. As truck accident attorneys familiar with drowsy driving crashes, we are concerned about unintended consequences of the HOS rule waiver.
The FMCSA says 13 percent of drivers involved in commercial truck accidents in its Large Truck Crash Causation Study were considered to have been fatigued at the time of their crash. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says truckers’ long work hours cause fatigue, sleep deprivation and disruption of normal sleep and rest cycles. IIHS research has found that when truck drivers have been behind the wheel for more than eight hours, they are twice as likely to crash.
“The safety law, which is aimed at eliminating exhausted truck drivers from the nation’s highways so they do not endanger others, is disliked by many drivers,” a Business Insider report says. “Some say the strict regulations actually disrupt their sleep schedule and makes them more likely to drive tired.”
Trucks Delivering Essential Supplies During COVID-19 Pandemic
The trucking industry is crucial to our country’s economy. Around 70% of the nation’s goods by weight are moved by a truck, Business Insider says. As panic buying in the first days of the coronavirus pandemic emptied store shelves, the nation turned to truckers to bring goods to market.
“With people across much of the country ordered to stay home to slow the spread of the virus, truckers are still plying the highways,” a Washington Post report says. “It’s unsung work, but a job that those in the industry say puts them on the front lines of the nation’s response.”
The HOS exemption doesn’t apply to every truck and trucker on the road, only those delivering emergency supplies and personnel helping manage the outbreak.
According to Autoblog, an automotive news and car shopping website, that means:
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
- Supplies and equipment, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, necessary for healthcare worker, patient and community safety, sanitation, and prevention of COVID-19 spread in communities.
- Food for emergency restocking of stores.
- Equipment, supplies and people necessary to establish and manage temporary housing and quarantine facilities related to COVID-19.
- People designated by federal, state or local authorities to be transported for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes.
- Personnel to provide medical or other emergency services.
The week following the FMCSA’s March 8 emergency declaration, shipments to grocery and discount retailers increased by 25%, Business Insider says. On March 14, a Saturday, the increase was 60%.
Meanwhile, rates for hauling so-called spot loads have been driven up by the demand in recent weeks. and truckers are finding that highways are much less crowded than usual, the Post says.
James Rogers, who was hauling a load of emergency supplies 2,109 miles from a Procter and Gamble facility in Illinois to Seattle, told the Post he had shaved about 24 hours off a run that typically takes three and half days, thanks to HOS waivers and empty highways.
Exemptions to Trucking Rules During Coronavirus
According to the FMCSA, none of the usual Hours of Service regulations apply while a driver is engaged with providing direct assistance under the emergency relief exemption. This includes relief from all hours-of-service recordkeeping requirements.
As Autoblog explains, normally, HOS rules permit truckers to drive a maximum of 11 hours within any 14-hour period, and within that 11 hours, a driver can drive for a maximum eight hours consecutively before being required to stop for at least 30 minutes. After that 14-hour period, the trucker must take a 10-hour break, and eight of those 10 hours must be spent in the bunk, ideally sleeping.
Under the new emergency order, qualifying truckers have no daily driving limit but must still take a 10-hour break off-duty after delivering cargo or eight hours after dropping off passengers. Hours worked providing direct assistance under the emergency relief exemption do not count toward the 60/70 hour rule. This rule says drivers may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days. A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive-day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
The original March 13 emergency order also says:
[If] the driver informs the motor carrier that he or she needs immediate rest, the driver must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before the driver is required to return to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal reporting location. Once the driver has returned to the terminal or other location, the driver must be relieved of all duty and responsibilities and must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and eight hours if transporting passengers.
The emergency waivers do not apply to or change:
- Controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements
- Commercial driver’s license requirements
- Financial responsibility (insurance) requirements
- Hazardous material regulations
- Applicable size and weight requirements
- Any other portion of the regulations not specifically exempted under 49 CFR § 390.23: Relief from regulations.
Motor carriers or drivers currently subject to an out-of-service order are not eligible for waivers allowed by the emergency declaration until they have met applicable conditions for rescission of the order and it has been rescinded by the FMCSA.