FMCSA emergency relief exemptions are designed to help motor carriers provide relief in emergencies, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  -  HDT file photo, Fikes Truck Line

FMCSA emergency relief exemptions are designed to help motor carriers provide relief in emergencies, such as after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

HDT file photo, Fikes Truck Line

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has limited the scope of regulatory relief in emergency situations, changes that went into effect Dec. 12.

The new rules limit the duration of emergency relief exemptions in state or regional emergencies to 14 days, and those exemptions now only apply to hours of service limits.

Response to COVID-19 Exemptions

A year ago, HDT reported that FMCSA proposed to limit the trucking regulations that are suspended for motor carriers and drivers providing direct relief in emergency situations.

The agency's action came in the wake of concerns raised about the broad, extended, nationwide emergency exemptions for the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the December 2022 notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency said it believes most emergencies justify relief from the normal hours of service limits in order to deliver critical supplies and services. However, it said, other safety regulations often have no direct bearing on the ability to provide emergency assistance, such as:

  • Driver qualification requirements.
  • Drug and alcohol requirements.
  • Vehicle inspection requirements.
  • Prohibitions on operating while ill or fatigued.

The agency published a final rule on Oct. 13, which went into effect Dec. 12, implementing much of the proposal with a few revisions.

New Emergency Relief Exemption Rules

In the final rule, FMCSA narrowed the automatic applicability of Sec. 390.23 to hours of service limits only, saying “this change clarifies that carriers and drivers are not authorized to overlook other important safety requirements while performing direct assistance to emergency relief efforts.”

The rule also shortened the duration of regulatory relief.

Presidential declarations of emergency will continue to trigger a 30-day exemption from all FMCSRs in parts 390 through 399. However, the rule limits the duration and scope of the automatic regulatory relief that takes effect upon a regional declaration of emergency by a governor or FMCSA.

The automatic regulatory relief applies for 14 days, as opposed to the previous 30 days, and exempts commercial vehicle drivers only from the HOS regulations.

“This change both shortens the time the automatic regulatory relief is in place and limits the scope of the relief provided, ensuring any impact on safety continues to be minimized during the period of the automatic regulatory relief,” explained the agency.

This rule also modifies the definition for emergency to clarify that emergency regulatory relief generally does not apply to economic conditions that are caused by market forces, including shortages of raw materials or supplies, labor strikes, driver shortages, inflation, or fluctuations in freight shipment or brokerage rates, unless such conditions or events cause an immediate threat to human life and result in a declaration of an emergency.

Change from Proposed Five-Day Emergency Exemption

FMCSA said one change from the previous proposal was the 14-day relief period, which is longer than the five days originally proposed.

This was based on comments to the proposal that said five days would be too short to provide emergency relief, and also too little time for FMCSA to receive and evaluate information on whether a longer FMCSA-issued emergency exemption was warranted.

FMCSA said it “believes that most emergency declarations expire within five days, but it is aware that climate change has impacted both the number and severity of storms that often give rise to regional declarations of emergency.

“Providing for 14 days of automatic relief will allow emergency relief efforts in these severe weather scenarios to continue unabated, without fear that there will be a lapse between the automatic regulatory relief and any FMCSA action to extend or reinstate the regulatory relief.”

For emergencies that do not require an extended response period, the regulation states that the exemption period triggered by a governor-issued emergency declaration will end upon cessation of the emergency declaration or 14 days, whichever is sooner.

From the HDT Archives (May 2020): Trucking Through the Pandemic

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