The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has taken additional steps to make more truck drivers available to haul essential supplies during the Coronavirus outbreak, including the broadening of exemptions from the hours-of-service (HOS) rules and suspending enforcement of licensing enforcement in limited circumstances.
On March 13, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that it was granting commercial drivers exemption from Parts 390-399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which govern hours-of-service, parts and accessories needed for safe operation and longer combination vehicle
The HOS exemption was initially applied to hauling medical supplies and equipment for testing, diagnosis and treatment, and items needed for community safety, sanitation and disease prevention, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants. Also included are food for emergency restocking of stores and equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine and isolation facilities.
In a second announcement issued on March 18, FMCSA expanded the list of exempt items to include fuel and food, paper products and other groceries intended for use in the emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores. Also exempted are immediate precursor raw materials, such as paper, plastic or alcohol, that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items.
“The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain,” says FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen. “We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.”
Carriers and drivers need to keep in mind that not all freight is exempted. The agency stressed that the exemption does not apply to routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration.
In addition to freight hauling, the exemption also applies to the transportation of persons designated by federal, state or local authorities for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes, and persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.
Drivers Still Require Rest
After completion of direct assistance to emergency relief efforts related to the outbreak, the fleet management and driver are subject to the standard HOS requirements. The exception occurs when a driver may return empty to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location, in which case the exemption still applies.
FMCSA also reminded carriers that after a driver returns to the terminal or at some point informs fleet management that they need immediate rest, the driver must be allowed to take at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time before the driver is required to return to the motor carrier's terminal or the driver's normal reporting location.
On March 24, the agency announced that it will not take enforcement action for certain expired commercial driver licenses (CDLs), commercial learner permits (CLPs) and medical certifications through June 30. FMCSA said it was taking the step because many of the state Department of Motor Vehicle offices have been closed and their employees have been ordered to stay home.
“Ensuring that drivers are available to operate commercial motor vehicles during the national emergency declaration is critical to continued operation of the transportation and energy supply networks and the safety and economic stability of our nation,” FMCSA explained.
The enforcement holiday exists for a commercial driver with an expired license, but only if the license was valid on Feb. 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020, and only if the driver is otherwise qualified to drive under federal regulations. Similarly, a driver without a current medical certificate may continue to drive, but only if the driver has evidence of a medical certification that was valid on Feb. 29, 2020, and expired on or after March 1, 2020.
American Trucking Associations and the National Retail Federation earlier asked the Trump Administration to take these and other steps to remove supply chain roadblocks that have been created by actions federal, state and local governments have taken to stem the spread of the Coronavirus.
“FMCSA has taken an important step to let drivers and carriers know how to address things like expired commercial drivers’ licenses or medical cards,” observes Dan Horvath, ATA’s vice president of safety policy. “With state governments moving to remote work and shuttering offices, drivers will need assistance to continue moving critical goods safely, and today’s guidance is a step toward ensuring those trucks keep moving.”