FMCSA Declares Emergency Exemption for Coronavirus Relief Drivers

Adam Rowe

Most commercial motor vehicles operating in the US need to follow hours of service (HOS) regulations, which manage the hours drivers can work, and the consecutive off-duty time needed before they can get back on the road.

Last Friday, the FMCSA declared an emergency suspension of HOS regulations for carriers and drivers that are providing “direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks.” This assistance includes food, medical equipment, and preventative supplies like hand sanitizer.

The regulation suspension is an unprecedented move. Here's what it means for drivers and businesses with commercial vehicles.

Who does the suspension impact?

The HOS suspension doesn't apply to all drivers. If your fleet isn't a part of direct emergency assistance, nothing has changed and you should continue operating under normal fleet management conditions.

So who does it affect? The FMCSA laid out six categories of cargo and passengers that qualify a vehicle to suspend its HOS regulations.

  1. Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
  2. Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and COVID-19 prevention. Examples here include masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants.
  3. Food for emergency restocking of stores.
  4. Equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19.
  5. Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes
  6. Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.

The key takeaway here is that the HOS-exempted vehicles are for emergency relief efforts specifically for either directly addressing the COVID-19 pandemic or addressing emergencies affected by the pandemic.

Transportation of the above six types of supplies and persons are essential at this time, and the FMCSA recognizes this. As a result, it's relaxing the limits on how much drivers can move in to provide assistance.

When do the exemptions end?

Normal HOS regulations will remain suspended for a vehicle transporting emergency supplies or people even after it has reached its destination, so that the vehicle can return home.

But once the driver has completed their “return empty to the motor carrier's terminal or the driver's normal work reporting location,” the HOS regulations are back in effect and they'll need to start complying again.

Plus, after providing emergency relief, the drivers must be given a recovery time off slot: “A minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.”

Also if at any point a relief driver asks for time off, their motor carriers can't press them to keep working. If they need “immediate rest,” they “must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.”

Do all drivers have to work overtime to aid COVID-19 relief efforts now?

No, this is not a mandatory ruling. It only applies to the relatively small group of drivers and vehicles offering direct COVID-19 relief. The new declaration allows those who are already part of the effort to continue delivering vital supplies without worrying about legal consequences. Most vehicles are expected to continue operating normally.

Could this be taken advantage of by businesses who aren’t actually providing emergency relief?

Short answer: No. If drivers violate the HOS regulations but aren’t actually providing emergency aid, those businesses will face the consequences for lack of compliance, including a citation, being placed out of service temporarily, and potentially getting slapped with a big fine.

What's the timeline for these emergency rules?

The emergency suspension went into effect immediately on 13 March. The suspension will end when the national emergency has been declared over, or it will end on April 12, 2020 — whichever comes first.

How does this affect ELDs tracking HOS?

Electronic logging devices (ELDs) won't have a built-in functionality to deal with the emergency exceptions. Certain fleet management providers may offer workarounds, however. One big brand, Samsara, has advised users to simply add a note in their records:

“We recommend that affected drivers add a remark to their logs that refers to the emergency declaration and describes the direct assistance activity they are currently engaged in. We do not recommend using the Adverse Driving Conditions exemption for this purpose.”

Whether or not you’re assisting with relief efforts, ELDs are mandatory for HOS tracking — with direct COVID-19 exceptions or otherwise.

Most major fleet management systems offer ELD compliance and HOS-tracking functionality, along with all their extra management features designed to streamline typical fleet chores- such as two-way communication, dispatching, routing, fuel tracking and other data collection features designed to reduce overall fleet costs.

Ensuring you have the best fleet management service is the single easiest way a business with commercial vehicles can reduce costs and improve operations. If your business owns company cars, vans or trucks, you can find out if you could save money and get matched to the top provider for your needs using our free and easy comparison tool.

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Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for the last decade. He's also a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry (and Digital Book World 2018 award finalist) and has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect. When not glued to TechMeme, he loves obsessing over 1970s sci-fi art.

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