*Information updated as of March 26, 2020
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a national emergency declaration suspending certain regulations related to hours of service (HOS) regulations for commercial vehicles. Under the temporary rules, drivers are no longer subject to hours of service rules when transporting certain types of cargo or personnel necessary for the response to COVID-19. On March 18, the emergency declaration was expanded to include fuel and certain types of raw materials including livestock. These rules remain in effect until the President declares an end to the emergency, or 11:59 PM on April 12, whichever comes first.
How the HOS rules apply
Drivers are not subject to the usual HOS requirements when transporting the following eligible categories:
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of the COVID-19 outbreak
- Supplies and equipment, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants necessary for healthcare workers, patient and community safety, sanitation, and prevention of COVID-19 outbreak spread in communities
- 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 the aforementioned three categories
- Equipment, supplies, and persons necessary for establishment and management of temporary housing and quarantine facilities related to the COVID-19 outbreak
- Persons designated by Federal, State, or local authorities for transport for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes
- Personnel providing direct medical relief or other emergency relief services
Although this kind of regulatory relief has been implemented in the past at the state level, the federal government has never done so since the legislation was enacted in 1938. The emergency declaration is intended in part to forestall shortages of goods such as medical masks, hand sanitizer, and consumer goods such as rice, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Acting Administrator Jim Mullen, “This declaration will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently.”
What the new HOS guidelines mean to you
The temporary suspension of HOS regulations does not apply to routine commercial deliveries or mixed loads that consist only partially of the eligible categories. That is, a driver transporting medical personnel along with non-essential passengers or cargo does not meet the eligibility requirement. Once a driver returns to normal service, the normal HOS rules are in place—with the exception that the driver is allowed to return empty to the carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location without the need to comply with 49 CFR Parts 390 through 399.
After completing transport related to the eligible categories, the carrier must allow the driver at least 10 hours off duty before returning to the terminal or reporting location, if the driver deems it necessary. Upon return to the terminal or reporting location, the driver must be relieved of duty and allowed at least 10 hours of rest if transporting goods or 8 hours if transporting personnel.
The emergency declaration does not exempt drivers from any of the following rules and regulations:
- Controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements (49 CFR Part 382)
- Commercial driver's license requirements (49 CFR Part 383)
- Insurance and financial responsibility requirements (49 CFR Part 387)
- Hazardous material regulations (49 CFR Parts 100-180)
- Size and weight requirements
- Out-of-service notices
- Any regulations not specifically exempted under 49 CFR Part 390.23
Any driver transporting goods or personnel under the exemptions specified in the emergency declaration should consider printing out a copy of the Expanded Emergency Declaration and keeping it in the cab for reference.
Trips between the U.S. and Canada
Although the border between the U.S. and Canada is currently closed to most traffic, it remains open for the transport of goods. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that the travel restrictions announced on March 16th do not apply to commerce or trade.
However, Canada has not yet implemented HOS relief at the federal level. Transport Canada is preparing to implement an exemption to HOS rules if it becomes necessary.
Working together to stay safe
The American Trucking Association is calling on the White House and government leaders at all levels to do what is necessary to keep trucks rolling during the COVID-19 pandemic, including keeping rest stops open and providing direct health guidelines for drivers.
Drivers might find fewer options for food and rest when they take a break, as restaurants switch from eat-in to delivery, convenience store shelves empty out, and truck stops keep fewer fuel lanes open. Some truck stops are limiting the number of drivers they allow in the lounges at one time to help prevent the potential spread of the virus. Many drivers and organizations are working together to share these types of logistical information, including which locations are closed, have modified their hours, or provide to-go service only.
Working together, we can all help keep trucks rolling during the crisis. It’s crucial to support the drivers who are on the front lines in the fight against the pandemic.