COVID-19 affecting services needed by trucking industry

Some motor carriers, and their drivers, are having difficulty accessing public and private services as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

States have been limiting mass gatherings, resulting in the closure of many businesses in the service industries and some government offices.

Even though motor carriers and drivers who are providing direct assistance to the COVID-19 outbreak can benefit from a recent exemption from safety regulations, they need many of the affected services to remain operational.

Rest Areas for Truckers During Covid-19

States are limiting access to rest areas, welcome centers, and restaurants to promote social distancing. This decision will affect drivers in need of rest and nourishment, whether running under normal hours-of-service limits or the emergency exemption.

The Acting Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Jim Mullen, sent a letter on March 17, 2020, to the National Association of Truckstop Operators recognizing the integral role that travel centers and truckstops have in the supply chain. He encourages the membership to follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and abide by state and local restrictions. He acknowledges the need to keep the facilities open 24 hours, if possible, to accommodate drivers’ needs so they can continue transporting food and medical supplies during the coronavirus emergency.

But this desire to have truckstops and travel centers remain open 24/7 may not be feasible based on reports of closures. Pennsylvania has closed all rest areas and welcome centers statewide effective Tuesday, March 17th. It has been reported that some state rest area buildings are only open when an attendant is present to prevent the theft of toilet paper.

Measures have been taken by a number of states is to close restaurants. Many are limited to offering drive-through and carry-out options, including curbside pickup. However, when operating a large vehicle, a driver may find it difficult to park and then order takeout if the restaurant does not accommodate truck parking. As a precaution, to ensure drivers are eating right and remaining healthy, drivers may need to pack a cooler of food to take on the road or call ahead to learn of dining options.

DMV closures

Some states are closing their DMV or equivalent offices or service counters to protect employees and the general public.

If a driver is expected to renew his or her license — but the office is closed — he or she would be unable to operate a vehicle once the license expires. FMCSA has not provided any guidance otherwise.

An emergency declaration from the FMCSA issued on March 13 exempts certain drivers from Part 391 (which includes the medical card) when providing direct assistance in emergency relief efforts. Technically, these drivers are not subject to the medical requirements if they qualify for the exemption. However, if a commercial driver’s license (CDL) holder was scheduled to provide a renewed medical certification to the state, this poses another problem. His or her CDL may be downgraded within weeks if the state relies on an automated system to downgrade licensees when their medical cards expire. States that only downgrade licensees through a manual process may be more forgiving and allow a grace period.

Keep in mind that the downgrading of a CDL does not occur right away after the driver’s medical card on file with the state expires. The driver should carry his or her new medical card while on duty, and enforcement officers should accept it provided the CDL is still active.

To show its good faith efforts to comply in this situation, the motor carrier should document:

  • Any actions it takes, and why the med card shows as expired on the driving record (i.e., due to the DMV shutdown).
  • The timeline when this all occurred (when the DMV closed and reopen).
  • Any related information appearing on the DMV website.

Keep in mind, if a driver’s CDL is downgraded, he or she must stop operating any vehicle that requires that type of CDL.

Stay tuned

We sympathize with our customers during these uncertain times and are aware of the difficulties you and your drivers are up against. Many unaddressed scenarios are popping up, and as we learn of any official guidance, we will share the information with our customers. Meanwhile, stay safe and healthy.

About the author
Kathy Close - Transportation Editor

Kathy provides regulatory support for a variety of products; her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification, and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement model.

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