DOT suspends safety rules for COVID-19 relief efforts

By: Daren Hansen

Publication: Transportation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 03/16/2020

The FMCSA has issued an emergency declaration that exempts certain motor carriers and drivers from most safety regulations when assisting with relief efforts related to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Under the declaration, motor carriers and drivers providing “direct assistance” anywhere in the United States are not required to comply with Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). This includes rules for hours of service and driver qualification, among others.

This marks the first time the FMCSA has ever issued a nationwide emergency exemption, made possible by the Trump Administration’s declaration on Friday of a national emergency.

Who qualifies for FMCSA exemptions?

The exemption applies only to carriers and drivers who are performing transportation or other relief services related to the immediate restoration of essential services or supplies. This includes transportation to meet immediate needs for:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19;
  • 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;
  • Food for emergency restocking of stores;
  • Equipment, supplies, and people necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID- 19;
  • People designated by federal, state, or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and
  • People necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.

Because the emergency is nationwide, drivers may cross state lines and still claim the exemption.

Drivers are NOT considered to be providing direct assistance if they:

  • Engage in routine commercial deliveries; or
  • Transport mixed loads that include both essential and non-essential supplies, equipment, and/or people.

Once a driver or vehicle is used to transport cargo or provide services that are not in support of emergency relief efforts or is dispatched to another location to begin operations in commerce, the exemption no longer applies. However, a driver who provides direct assistance may travel back to his or her terminal with an empty vehicle and still claim the exemption for that return trip.

Hours-of-service provision

Eligible drivers are exempt from the hours-of-service rules while providing direct assistance, including the need to comply with any driving limits, rest requirements, or logging rules. Driving while ill or fatigued is never advised, however, and getting into compliance after the emergency-relief work is done could be a little tricky to manage.

First, immediate needs must be met. When direct assistance ends, if a driver says he or she is fatigued and needs rest before returning to the normal work-reporting location, the driver must be given at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.

After a driver has returned to his or her normal work-reporting location and is no longer providing direct assistance, the driver must have at least 10 hours off duty if operating a property-carrying vehicle or 8 hours off duty if operating a passenger-carrying vehicle.

After that, you’ll need to determine where drivers stand on compliance with the 60- or 70-hour rule. For a truck driver, getting 34 hours off if the easiest solution. However, if that’s not an option, you’ll need to add up the hours worked in the past seven or eight days to see where each driver stands.

Notably, this includes all hours spent on emergency relief efforts. That’s why tracking that time is still a necessity. Drivers using electronic logging devices (ELDs) can use the “personal use” setting on their ELD to track their time, though they should annotate the record to indicate that the time was spent providing emergency relief. Using “personal use” requires drivers to log in to their ELDs, avoiding the creation of unassigned driving records that would need to be managed later.

Compliance with some regulations still required

Drivers and motor carriers operating under the exemption must continue to comply with certain safety rules, including those for:

  • Commercial drivers’ licenses,
  • Drug and alcohol testing,
  • Financial responsibility (insurance),
  • Hazardous materials, and
  • Size and weight requirements.

Motor carriers and drivers currently under an out-of-service order are not eligible to use the exemption.

Exemption ends in April 12, 2020

The exemption will be in place until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on April 12, 2020, or until the Trump Administration announces an end to the emergency, whichever happens first.

About the author
Daren Hansen - Transportation Safety Editor

Based on his expertise in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, Daren is responsible for writing and editing content for safety-related products, publications, and services for the trucking industry,

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