UPDATE: FMCSA extends exemption for COVID-19 relief efforts

By: Daren Hansen

Publication: Transportation Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 05/14/2020

FMCSA emergency exemption expires June 14, 2020

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has once again extended the life of an emergency exemption that applies to certain motor carriers and drivers assisting with COVID-19 relief efforts.

The exemption, in place since March 13, 2020, is now set to expire at midnight on June 14, 2020, assuming the national emergency is not called off before then.

No other changes to the exemption were announced when the FMCSA extended it on May 13, 2020. The following is an overview of the restrictions that continue to apply.

Direct assistance

The exemption applies only to carriers and drivers who are providing “direct assistance” to COVID-19 relief efforts. That is, they must be performing transportation or other relief services that are directly related to the immediate restoration of essential services or supplies.

Drivers and motor carriers that qualify for the exemption 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, driver qualification, and vehicle inspection, among others.

Essential services and supplies

In an April 8 announcement, the FMCSA expanded the list of eligible supplies to include certain liquefied petroleum gases. The list of essential services and supplies now comprises the following:

  • 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, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;
  • Immediate precursor raw materials — such as paper, plastic, or alcohol — that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items;
  • Fuel;
  • Liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems;
  • 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.

The FMCSA has also indicated that drivers may use the exemption when hauling livestock, feed, and fertilizer (as precursors to food), wood pulp (as a precursor to essential products), household waste, medical waste, and raw materials used to manufacture bleach, disinfectants, hand sanitizers, and similar items. Pet food is not included.

Because the emergency is nationwide, drivers may cross state lines and still claim the exemption. They do not need to carry any documentation when using the exemption, but carriers are advised to retain normal business records — such as bills of lading — should a driver’s use of the exemption come into question.

Routine work is not allowed

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

  • Engage in routine commercial deliveries; or
  • Transport mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency.

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.

Many rules still apply

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.

The FMCSA’s emergency declaration says drivers and carriers must also comply with:

  • All applicable state laws and regulations, including speed limits and other traffic restrictions; and
  • 49 CFR §392.3, which prohibits the operation of a CMV while the driver is too ill or fatigued to drive safely.

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

Crash reporting

The emergency declaration also requires motor carriers to report any recordable crashes to the FMCSA office in the state where the carrier is based, for any crashes involving a driver using the exemption. A recordable crash is one that meets the definition of “accident” in §390.5 and needs to be recorded in the carrier’s accident register.

The crash notification must be made by phone or in writing within 24 hours and must include the date, time, and location of the crash, the driver involved, the vehicle identification, and a brief description of the crash.

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. The FMCSA does not require drivers to track time spent providing direct assistance. Driving while too ill or fatigued to drive safely is prohibited, however.

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.

In addition, when a driver is ready to move from emergency-relief efforts to normal operations — including a non-exempt backhaul — a 10-hour break is required if the driver is already at his or her 14-hour limit, including hours spent conducting emergency-relief efforts.

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.

Exemption ends in June

The exemption is now in place until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on June 14, 2020, or until the Trump Administration terminates the national 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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