The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended the COVID-19 exception to hours of service regulations for certain pandemic-related loads to May 31, 2021, or until the national emergency declaration is rescinded.
The previous extension was due to expire on Feb. 28. The agency published the extension late Friday, Feb. 12.
Under the order, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 public health emergency are granted emergency relief from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
It notes that “direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) incident to the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies related to COVID-19 during the emergency.”
The exemption is limited to transportation of:
- livestock and livestock feed
- medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
- vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19
- supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants; and
- food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
Direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration.
(Some regulations are still in force, such as related to speed limits, driving while fatigued or otherwise impaired, texting or handheld phone use while driving, and drug and alcohol regulations.)
FMCSA first issued Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 in response to the March 13, 2020, declaration of a national emergency related to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Since then, the agency several times has modifed it to expand and remove categories of supplies, equipment and persons covered to respond to changing needs for emergency relief.
More COVID-19 Trucking Regulatory Considerations
In a regulatory update webinar, David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, said based on his conversations with members, few are taking advantage of the exception and are simply operating under regular hours of service.
Heller also noted that the COVID-19 waivers for expiring commercial driver’s license, commercial learner’s permit, and medical certificates is currently still scheduled to expire at the end of this month. He believes they likely also will be extended. “We still get a lot of reports of specific state licensing agencies that still have not opened fully or are by appointments only, and those appointments may stretch out months in advance. The agency does take all these things into consideration,” he said. However, he also emphasized that there’s no guarantee they will make that extension.
Also related to COVID-19 is the recently announced mask-wearing mandate for interstate transportation. This primarily applies to passenger transportation, Heller noted. Solo long-haul truck drivers are not affected. However, team drivers appear to me. There’s a question about whether husband-and-wife teams would be required to mask up, he said, and TCA has contacted FMCSA about clarifying that.