Truck drivers who are hauling goods to provide relief for the pandemic COVID-19 are now relieved from compliance with the hours of service regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, has announced it will not require commercial vehicle drivers to abide by the hours of service regulation if they are transporting freight considered “critical goods” during the outbreak.
Drivers will be exempt from the regulation when providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts. This includes transportation of medical supplies, testing equipment, respirators, and medications treating the virus or its symptoms. It also includes items used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, whether for hospitals, clinics, or the community at large, and food to enable the restocking of stores now denuded of many items. (It does not as yet cover toilet paper.)
Any driver who is transporting relief goods and thus exempted must take at least 10 hours of off-duty time after delivering their load. This new provision will remain in effect until the termination of the emergency or April 12.
The FMCSA has never before issued a nationwide “pause” of this regulation. The decision was based on the national emergency declaration in response to the virus. FMCSA’s decision to allow for the exemption also responds to the recent lessening in truckload capacity. As a result of “the surge in demand for consumer staples and destocking of inventory given preparation for extended shuttering of activities across the U.S. in recent days and incremental reduction in supply,” so-called spot truckload market activity has risen, as noted in a recent report by senior research analyst Benjamin Hartford and research analyst Andrew Reed.
This important exemption allows drivers to move “critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently,” said Jim Mullen, acting administrator for FMCSA. “FMCSA is continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak and stands ready to use its authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.”