COVID-19, Regulatory Developments, Transportation

COVID-19: FMCSA Further Expands Hours of Service Relief

On March 19, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expanded its Hours of Service exemptions for commercial motor vehicle drivers transporting personnel and supplies necessary to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus, also referred to as “the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” first identified in Wuhan City, China in December 2019.

A new emergency declaration expands the one issued March 13. FMCSA also released answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the emergency declaration.

The agency provided guidance in the FAQs for handling Electronic Logging Device (ELD) records under the exemption.

The new emergency declaration exempting drivers from Hours of Service regulations now also covers the transportation of fuel and precursor raw materials for emergency supplies.

The expanded declaration provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts to meet immediate needs for:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19;
  • Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as disinfectants, gloves, hand sanitizer, masks, and soap;
  • Food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;
  • Fuel;
  • Immediate precursor raw materials, including alcohol, paper, or plastic that are required and will be used for the manufacture of essential items;
  • Equipment, supplies, and personnel necessary to establish and manage temporary housing and quarantines;
  • Personnel designated by federal, state, or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and
  • Personnel necessary to provide other medical or emergency services.

The emergency hours of service exemption also includes recordkeeping requirements, such as records of duty status (RODS).

FMCSA suggested three options for ELDs that include using the “authorized personal use” (or personal conveyance) function of the ELD to record all of the time providing direct assistance under the exemption, which would result in the time being recorded as off duty and would require annotation; using the ELD in its normal mode and annotating the ELD record to indicate driving was completed under the emergency relief exemption; or turning off the ELD.

The hours spent providing direct assistance do not count toward the 60/70-hour on-duty limit and drivers providing direct assistance also are exempt from the 30-minute break rule.

However, upon completion of the direct assistance and prior to returning to normal operations, the driver is required to take 10 hours off duty, or 8 hours for passenger carriers, and to comply with the on-duty limit of 60/70 hours in 7/8 days before returning to driving.

The exemption covers the transportation of livestock as a “precursor” to food. It also covers hauling household and medical waste as “supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19.”

The agency cautioned motor carriers that mixed loads are not covered by the exemption if loads contain only a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added solely to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration. The hours of service regulations covering work-related activities not associated with providing direct assistance still apply.

FMCSA does not have preemptive authority over states that decide or attempt to close highway rest stops but is working closely with the States to ensure adequate truck parking and facilities are available.

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