WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has revised its emergency exemption rules for truck drivers and carriers.
In a final rule published to the Federal Register on Tuesday, Oct. 10, the agency said the goal is “to narrow the scope of safety regulations from which relief is automatically provided for motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance when an emergency has been declared.”
The agency said that in order to provide clarity on which emergency exemptions are necessary during a specific event, it is narrowing the automatic applicability of § 390.23 to the hours of service (HOS) limits in §§ 395.3 and 395.5, which set the basic HOS limits for property-carrying and passenger-carrying vehicles, respectively.
This change clarifies that carriers and drivers are not authorized to overlook important safety requirements while performing direct assistance to emergency relief efforts, the final ruling states.
FMCSA officials agreed that most emergencies justify allowing carriers and drivers who provide direct assistance with the response to receive temporary relief from normal HOS limits.
However, the agency noted, “other safety regulations, including the driver qualification requirements of part 391, vehicle inspection requirements of part 396, parts and accessories required by part 393 and other operating requirements, such as prohibitions on operating while ill or fatigued in part 392, often have no direct bearing on the motor carrier’s ability to provide direct assistance to the emergency relief effort.”
Safety regulations ensure that the companies, vehicles and drivers meet the minimum requirements to operate safely, FMCSA officials said.
“While temporary relief from some regulations may be necessary during an emergency, waiving every regulation in parts 390 through 399 could negatively impact the safety of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) operating on the roadways,” the final ruling states.
Additionally, the final rule modifies the definition for emergency to clarify that emergency regulatory relief under § 390.23 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 an emergency declaration.
“This rule also removes the definition of emergency relief as that term is no longer used in § 390.23 and amends the definition of direct assistance to incorporate the essential components of the emergency relief definition,” the final rule states.
Further, the new rule limits the duration and scope of the automatic regulatory relief that takes effect upon a regional declaration of emergency by a governor, a governor’s authorized representative, or FMCSA. The automatic regulatory relief applies for 14 days, as opposed to 30 days, and exempts CMV drivers only from the HOS regulations in §§ 395.3 and 395.5, as opposed to all regulations in parts 390 through 399.
Presidential declarations of emergency will continue to trigger a 30-day exemption from all FMCSRs in parts 390 through 399.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents small-business truckers, criticized the FMCSA in its formal comments filed in February.
“We believe reducing the duration of the existing automatic regulatory relief from 30 days to five days when a regional declaration is issued by a governor, a governor’s authorized representative or FMCSA will obstruct the trucking industry’s ability to operate effectively in communities impacted by the emergency,” OOIDA wrote. “In our experience, the current 30-day period provides sufficient time to deliver emergency assistance without negatively impacting safety. FMCSA even states in this notice of proposed rulemaking, ‘The agency has no information that suggests that existing emergency exemptions have negatively impacted road safety.”’
Several organizations and state transportation departments have also spoken out against the changes.
The Iowa and Montana departments of transportation spoke out against the five-day limit.
“All emergency situations are unique in nature and limiting relief efforts to five days is burdensome and inadequate,” the Motor Carrier Services Division of the Montana DOT wrote. “(We) suggest that FMCSA consider eliminating any set time period and instead consider allowing the issuing authority to set the duration as they see fit, to adequately address the length of each specific emergency.”
The final rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.