WASHINGTON — On June 8, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that Emergency Declaration No. 2020-02, which suspended parts 390 through 399 of the regulations, which includes hours-of-service requirements, has been extended through July 14 with some modifications.
The declaration, issued by President Trump, had already been extended to June 14 from its original expiration date of May 13.
The latest extension places additional restrictions on carriers and drivers to qualify for the exemption from regulations. The extension is limited to (1) transportation of livestock and livestock feed; (2) medical supplies and equipment related to testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19; and (3) supplies and equipment necessary for sanitation and safety, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
The FMCSA declaration specifically excludes routine commercial deliveries, even if they contain a small amount of sanitation products. Other categories of freight are not excluded. The agency concluded that there is no longer a need for emergency relief with respect to other categories of freight.
Some regulations, such as requirements to obey state and local laws, those that address fatigue or illness, texting and driving and controlled substance testing requirements are specifically excluded from the declaration.
The regulations suspension was issued by the FMCSA in response to President Donald Trump’s March 13 declaration of a national emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic and was intended to help expedite movement of supplies and equipment needed to combat the virus.
The extension of the emergency declaration will expire sooner if Trump declares an end to the national emergency.
The largest effect on drivers was suspension of the hours of service (HOS) requirements of the regulations, including limits on driving time or requirements for rest period lengths. Since the suspension only applied while providing direct assistance, however, confusion resulted as regulations were off and then on again, depending on the load being hauled.
Additionally, even though driving limitations were suspended while hauling essential loads, those hours still counted toward the 60- and 70-hour rules once the direct assistance load was delivered and the driver returned to regular freight. Drivers sometimes needed a 34-hour restart to regain hours to continue working after a few days of hard running to deliver essential supplies.
Critics of the June 14 extension, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), noted that continued suspension of the regulations caused, in effect, an artificial increase in capacity, helping to suppress spot freight rates to their lowest level in years.
Since the types of freight that will constitute “emergency relief” have been restricted under the latest extension, any increase in overall capacity should be minimal.
Drivers should be cautions when operating under suspended regulations to make sure the loads they are hauling are covered by the declaration and to make sure hours are accounted for once they return to more “regular” freight.