EHS Administration, Emergency Preparedness and Response

FMCSA Proposes Limits on Emergency Declarations

On December 8, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed limiting the scope of regulatory relief provided by emergency declarations, as well as the duration of regional emergency declarations (87 Federal Register (FR) 75206).

Under current regulations, when the president, a governor, or the FMCSA issues an emergency declaration, drivers and motor carriers providing direct disaster assistance are exempt from motor carrier safety regulations in 49 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) parts 390 through 399 for a 30-day period.

The FMCSA is proposing to limit the exemptions to daily and weekly hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. According to the agency, rules regarding drivers’ qualifications, vehicle inspections, the prohibition from operating a vehicle while ill or fatigued, and vehicle parts and accessories have no bearing on a carrier’s ability to provide assistance during relief efforts.

Exemptions from all safety regulations in parts 390–399 could negatively impact the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles on roadways, according to the agency. However, the agency said it has no information indicating that current or past emergency exemptions have negatively impacted road safety.

In addition to limiting exemptions to HOS relief for drivers and motor carriers providing direct assistance, the proposed rule would limit emergency exemptions to a 5-day period when the FMCSA or a governor issues an emergency declaration. Presidential emergency declarations still would trigger a 30-day emergency exemption.

The FMCSA said its experience in monitoring emergency declarations has shown that 5 days of relief are appropriate for responding to regional emergencies.

The agency also proposed clarifying its definition of emergencies—that emergencies do not include economic conditions caused by market forces, such as shortages of raw materials or supplies, labor strikes, driver shortages, inflation, or fluctuations in freight shipment or brokerage rates, unless such conditions or events pose an immediate threat to human life. The agency also wants to consolidate its definition of “emergency relief” with its definition of “direct assistance.”

The length and geographic breadth of the COVID-19 public health emergency alerted the agency to the need to revisit its “relief from regulations” rules. Former President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the COVID-19 pandemic on March 13, 2020, and the FMCSA issued a regional declaration the same day. The agency continually renewed its emergency declaration but eventually limited exemptions to relief from HOS regulations.

Agency stakeholders also expressed concerns. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance submitted a petition in October 2020, asking the FMCSA to revise its emergency declaration rules, noting the potential safety risks posed by blanket exemptions.

Comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking are due February 6, 2023.

In May 2020, the FMCSA amended its HOS regulations for commercial motor vehicle drivers, expanding the driving window for both long-haul and short-haul drivers. The rulemaking increased flexibility for the 30-minute break rule; modified the sleeper berth exception, allowing drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into 2 periods, extended the maximum window for driving in adverse conditions by 2 hours; and lengthened the maximum on-duty period for short-haul drivers from 12 to 14 hours and extended the distance limit for short-haul drivers from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.