The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued an expanded national emergency declaration to exempt truck drivers of hours-of-service regulations, which require them to take regular rest breaks while driving and between shifts. According to news reports, this was done during a national emergency situation with the pandemic because large trucks are required to deliver important items such as medications, hand sanitizers and personal protective equipment for clinics and hospitals, which are on the front lines of battling the coronavirus.
A notice from the FMCSA explains that the exemption will apply not to routine commercial deliveries, but to the transportation of commodities for essential services such as medical care, essential supplies such as food and fuel, water, toilet paper, hand sanitizer and grocery items. Trucking companies cannot simply add a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief items to a mixed load just to get the benefits of this emergency declaration.
Under the Emergency Declaration, once a driver has completed his or her delivery, he or she must get a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property and eight hours if transporting passengers. Truck drivers don’t have to maintain a record of duty status log but, the FMCSA recommends that they explain the activity in the log remarks section without completing the detailed grid.
The Emergency Declaration also states it does not exempt motor carriers or drivers from the controlled substance and alcohol use and testing requirements, the commercial driver’s license requirements, insurance requirements, hazardous material regulations, applicable size and weight requirements or any other regulation that is not specifically exempted by the order. FMCSA’s Emergency Declaration is the first time the agency has issued nationwide relief for trucking companies in this manner.
Increased Risk of Truck Accidents?
The question that we as truck accident lawyers have to ask here is whether there is now an increased risk of truck accidents on our nation’s highways as a result of safety regulations being relaxed. The Hours-of-Service regulations served an important purpose – to prevent truck drivers from getting exhausted and falling asleep at the wheel. It is our sincere hope that these federal exemptions for trucking companies don’t mean an increase in devastating truck accidents.
It is also important for the rest of us to remember that trucking companies are still required to carry insurance, submit to alcohol testing and commercial driver’s license requirements. If you have been injured in a truck accident when these exemptions are in place, you are still entitled to receive compensation for your losses. An experienced truck accident attorney will be able to help you better understand your legal rights and options.