The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended its Emergency Declaration providing hours-of-service and other regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak another five weeks, through May 15. The declaration was also further expanded to cover liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems.
The exemption was first issued on March 13 and was due to expire on April 12. An expanded version of the exemption issued on March 18 added fuel and raw materials needed to manufacture essential supplies to the list of freight covered under the original order.
As J.J. Keller explained, under the emergency declaration, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreak are not required to comply with Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. This includes rules covering hours of service, vehicle inspections, and driver qualification, among others.
The inclusion of liquefied gases related to refrigeration or cooling systems comes at a time when more refrigeration is needed in some locations for temporary morgues, when hospital HVAC systems are more important than ever for the proper functioning of airborne infection isolation rooms, and when all that online grocery shopping is causing a cold-storage shortage.
The latest expanded declaration adds a new requirement, according to Keller: motor carriers operating under the exemption must report any recordable crashes to the FMCSA office in the state where the carrier is based. The notification must be made by phone or in writing within 24 hours and include the date, time, location, driver, vehicle identification, and brief description of the crash.
The updated declaration also included a clarification of the regulations that drivers are not exempt from, including:
- Compliance with speed limits and other traffic restrictions
- Impaired driving triggered by fatigue, illness, or other causes
- Reporting recordable crashes within 24 hours to a FMCSA Division Office
- Providing at least 10 consecutive hours of rest before a driver is required to return to service
- Controlled substance and alcohol use and testing requirements
- CDL requirements insurance requirements
- Hazardous material regulations
- Applicable size and weight requirements. (A number of states have issued temporary declarations raising weight limits.)
What is direct assistance?
Direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its drivers related to the immediate restoration of essential services, such as medical care, or essential supplies like food or disinfectants. Specifically, it includes transportation to meet immediate needs for the following:
- 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 masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants;
- Food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;
- Immediate precursor raw materials — such as paper, plastic, or alcohol — that are required and to be used for the manufacturing of essential items;
- Liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems;
- Equipment, supplies, and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19;
- Persons designated by federal, state, or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and
- Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services.
Direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries. Also, it does not include transportation of mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency.
Direct assistance ends when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo or provide services that are not in support of emergency relief efforts or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or truck to another location to begin operations in commerce.
A driver who provides relief assistance may travel back to his or her terminal with an empty commercial vehicle under the exemption.