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Hours of Service Relief: Latest COVID-19 Updates

FMCSA HOS rules March April 2020 in response to COVID-19

Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a national emergency declaration suspending certain regulations related to hours of service (HOS) regulations for commercial vehicles in response to the Covid-19 outbreak. Below are the most recent updates.

Update - February 2021:

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has granted a three-month waiver from certain regulations applicable to commercial learner's permit (CLP) holders operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), as defined in 49 CFR 383.5, in interstate and intrastate commerce. FMCSA has initiated this action in response to the March 13, 2020 declaration of a national emergency under 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b) related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This waiver is effective March 1, 2021 and expires on May 31, 2021 or upon the revocation of the Declaration of National Emergency under 42 U.S.C. § 5191(b) concerning the COVID-19 public health emergency, whichever is sooner.

FMCSA's Determination and Regulatory Provisions Waived

Consistent with the statutory requirements for waivers, FMCSA has determined that it is in the public interest to issue a waiver, until May 31, 2021, limited in scope and circumstances, that is likely to achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level of safety that would be obtained in the absence of the waiver.

To respond to this unique event, and to continue the ability of intrastate and interstate CDL and CLP holders to transport goods and people, this waiver:

  • Waives the requirement under 49 CFR 383.25(a)(1) that a CLP holder be accompanied by a CDL holder, with the proper CDL class and endorsements, seated in the front seat of the vehicle while the CLP holder operates a CMV on public roads or highways. Under the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this waiver, a CLP holder may operate a CMV on public roads or highways without an accompanying CDL holder present in the front seat of the vehicle, provided that the CDL holder is elsewhere in the cab. In addition, the CLP holder must be in possession of evidence from the testing jurisdiction, including an authorized third-party tester, that the CLP holder has passed the CDL driving skills test, and, the CLP holder has a valid non-CDL driver's license, CLP, and medical certificate, unless FMCSA's waiver regarding expiring CDLs, CLPs and medical examiners' certificates, effective on March 1, 2021, applies.
  • Waives the restriction under 49 CFR 383.79(a) that limits a State to administering a driving skills test, in accordance with subparts F, G, and H of 49 CFR part 383, to an out of state CDL applicant who has taken driver training in that State. Under the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this waiver, a State may elect to administer a driving skills test to any out of state CDL applicant, regardless of where the applicant received driver training.

States, SDLAs, and CLP holders are covered under this waiver without further action.

FMCSA will not issue a finding or a determination of substantial noncompliance under 49 CFR part 384 against States for action or inaction consistent with this waiver.

FMCSA will not take an enforcement action against CLP holders for operation, or against motor carriers for allowing the operation, of a CMV without a CDL holder present in the front seat of the vehicle if the CLP driver is in possession of evidence from the testing jurisdiction, including an authorized third-party tester, that the CLP holder has passed the CDL driving skills test, and, has a valid non-CDL driver's license, CLP, and medical certificate, unless the FMCSA waiver on expiring CDLs and medical certificates applies.

For more information on this or other emergency declarations extensions, visit the FMCSA website. 


Update - June 2, 2020:

The FMCSA officially published the Hours of Service Final Rule June 1, 2020 in the Federal Register that now means the 120-day effective date begins counting down.  This makes September 29th, 2020 the effective date for the rules to take effect.

Update - May 29, 2020:

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently published a final rule updating hours of service (HOS) rules to increase safety on America’s roadways by updating existing regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers.   

First adopted in 1937, FMCSA’s hours of service rules specify the permitted operating hours of commercial drivers. In 2018, FMCSA authored an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to receive public comment on portions of the HOS rules to alleviate unnecessary burdens placed on drivers while maintaining safety on our nation’s highways and roads. Subsequently, in August 2019, the Agency published a detailed proposed rule which received an additional 2,800 public comments. 
Based on the detailed public comments and input from the American people, FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:

The Agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.

  • The Agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
  • The Agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  • The Agency will change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

FMCSA’s final rule is crafted to improve safety on the nation’s roadways. The rule changes do not increase driving time and will continue to prevent CMV operators from driving for more than eight consecutive hours without at least a 30-minute break.
In addition, FMCSA’s rule modernizing hours of service regulations is estimated to provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy and American consumers. The trucking industry is a key component of the national economy, employing more than seven million people and moving 70 percent of the nation’s domestic freight.
The new hours of service rule will have an implementation date of 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.  The complete final rule is available here.
Get to know the new rule with this helpful document created by FMCSA showing a side-by-side comparison of the past and new HOS rule and impacts.

Update - May 13, 2020: 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced it is extending the duration of the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration for Hours of Service Regulations until June 14, 2020. The FMCSA's original declaration was set to expire Friday, May 15, 2020. The announcement can be found here. All of the requirements and applicability outlined in the original and expanded declaration remain in effect through June 14 and have not changed.

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
  • Fuel
  • 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.

Learn more about HOS exemptions.