Exemption from COVID emergency hours extended through August
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has finally responded to questions raised following the Biden administration’s latest extension of the national emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The expansion came amid dwindling COVID case numbers and a return to a somewhat more routine basis for life in localities across the country. On Friday, the FMCSA confirmed that it will continue to offer carriers carrying a multitude of commodities relief from maximum driving time limits during service hours with a new 90-day emergency declaration extension.
From June 1 through the end of August, transporters of the following products can take advantage of assistance when the transport is in “direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19,” the agency said:
- Livestock and feed
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
- Vaccines, component products and medical supplies and equipment, including ancillary supplies/kits for administering vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19
- Supplies and equipment needed for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and sanitizers
- Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency replenishment of distribution centers or stores
- Gasoline, diesel, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), jet fuel, ethyl alcohol and heating fuel including propane, natural gas and fuel oil.
[Related: Will the COVID national emergency declaration’s hours waiver extend again?]
Certain products formerly covered by the waiver are no longer included, including vehicles, building materials, and others that were specifically listed by the FMCSA as eligible for the waiver as “supplies to assist people affected by consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Observers could expect further tightening at any time, the agency said in the statement by Deputy Administrator and Acting Agency Chief Robin Hutcheson. “FMCSA intends to continue to closely monitor the safety impacts of the relief granted under this extension. … If necessary, FMCSA may take steps to modify the declaration of emergency, in particular by reducing the products covered by the declaration of emergency or by modifying the restrictions associated with the transport of the goods.”
Or, ultimately, to end hours relief sooner than the new end of August, “if conditions warrant,” the agency added.
The FMCSA reporting requirement for motor carriers using the exemption remains in place, following its introduction on September 1 of last year. The agency cited evidence of the continued use of hour waivers as the reason for its prosecution. Carriers report to the FMCSA through their portal accounts on the DOT website, as previously noted, “their USDOT number; the number of trips made by commercial vehicles under the COVID reporting; the type of goods transported; and for several goods transported, an indication of which goods have been transported the most.”
A parallel but independent data collection effort also continues with grassroots operator advocacy group Trucker Nation via FMCSAReporting.com. Trucker Nation communications director Andrea Marks sees the attempt to document the use of the waiver as a possible way to bolster the service’s flexibility overtime. Like she said Overdrive last year, by this time, a certain subset of professional truckers had been there for 600 days, now well over 800 days, “proving the point we were all trying to make when we asked to change HOS,” Marks said. Trucker Nation was seeking full flexibility for split beds when this petition was filed in 2018. Marks hoped his organization’s data collection effort could pave the way for a reality that “professional truck drivers can without issue self-regulate and it may have a positive impact on road safety. »
Learn more about Marks via his latest Overdrive Radio appearance below.
Direct help to qualify for use of the COVID emergency waiver, the agency reiterated with its latest expansion, “does not include non-emergency transportation of eligible products or routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal amount of eligible emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this declaration of emergency.” To be eligible for the exemption, the load must be both composed of eligible products and “incidental to the immediate restoration of these essential supplies”.
When transitioning from exempt-eligible loads to non-eligible work, the agency said, operators can return empty to a terminal or “normal place of employment” without meeting time limits for conduct. Still, if he moves to another ineligible load after a qualifying load, the agency said “a 10-hour break is required when the total time a driver is performing emergency rescue operations, or a combination of emergency relief and normal operations, is equal to 14 hours.”
[Related: The COVID HOS waiver: Has ‘self-regulation’ equated to better safety?]