The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has declared a national emergency due to the nationwide COVID-19 pandemic and has provided hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers, effective as of announcements released on March 13, 2020. An expanded declaration announced on March 26, 2020 provides additional regulatory relief to U.S. commercial drivers to transport critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods during the pandemic.
“This expanded declaration is important because many ‘non-essential’ workers of various state governors have now been requested to shelter in place or remain quarantined,” says David Reischer, Esq., a New-York based business attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “The expanded declaration allows for critical medical supplies and equipment, sanitation equipment, food, and paper products for grocery restocking, fuel, and other emergency services.”
The expanded declaration explicitly does not include typical commercial deliveries of non-emergency goods and services. The declaration is intended to allow critical supplies—such as food—to be transported to people most in need in a time of national crisis without interference from various conflicting state and federal laws and regulations. “The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain,” says Jim Mullen, FMCSA’s acting administrator. “We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.”
The emergency declaration stipulates that once a driver has completed a delivery, he or she must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and eight hours if transporting passengers.
Drivers of food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores is included in FMCSA’s declaration, as these are vital for people who are stuck in their homes. Other items covered are medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, plus supplies and equipment necessary for safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants.
Additionally, drivers of people designated by federal, state, or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes or those who drive people necessary to provide other medical or emergency services are included.
This marks the first time the FMCSA has issued nation-wide relief and follows President Trump’s issuing of a national emergency declaration in response to the virus. “The President has mobilized the entire government to do everything possible to help respond to the COVID-19 situation. 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,” Mullen says. “Our nation’s truckers are on the front line of defense, and this emergency declaration is an important tool in keeping our country’s supply chains functioning and strong.”
To ensure drivers on the road have a safe place to stop, shop and rest, the National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO), which represents the travel plaza and truck stop industry, announced that its member locations intend to remain open to assist drivers.