The emergency order allowing hours-of-service regulation relief to truckers during the time of high demand brought on by the pandemic has been extended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The expansion of the declaration is an effort to loosen rules and allow for easier transport of long-awaited COVID-19 vaccines.
This extension will last until February 28th, 2021 for truckers participating in direct support of coronavirus emergency efforts–especially those working to transport these vaccines.
“FMCSA is helping lead the way to allow for an efficient and effective distribution of the first COVID-19 vaccines,” said Wiley Deck, FMCSA Deputy Administrator. “The agency is continuing to provide additional regulatory relief to our nation’s truckers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need.”
The original hours-of-service changes, announced in May by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and former acting Administrator Jim Mullen, consisted of four major revisions–including the relaxation of rules regarding sleeper berth time splits, 30-minute rest break requirements, adverse driving condition regulations, and maximum on-duty driving times.
The expansion declaration applies to all 50 states and the District of Columbia and extends the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations exemption from Parts 390 to 399. These Parts cover hours of service, longer combination vehicles, and parts and accessories necessary for safe vehicle operation.
Regulation relief mandates are extended for commercial drivers hauling: medical supplies, equipment, vaccines, and vaccine administration kits; testing-related medical supplies, such as those diagnosing COVID-19; COVID-related sanitation, community safety, and community transmission prevention supplies like masks, gloves, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants; livestock and livestock feed; and food, groceries, and paper products meant for restocking stores and distribution centers.
The hours-of-service change extension will not be offered to those hauling routine commercial deliveries and mixed loads “with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration, according to FMCSA.
These efforts follow the December 1st announcement of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s measures being taken “for the safe, rapid transportation of the coronavirus disease 2019 vaccine by land and air,” as stated by the DOT. “With the unprecedented pace of vaccine development through Operation Warp Speed, the Department has made preparations to enable the immediate mass shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Operation Warp Speed officials have worked with the private companies transporting the vaccines from manufacturers to distribution centers. Necessary safety regulations have been put in place regarding any potential difficulties and hazards that could arise from vaccine transport, which include dry ice and lithium battery standards.
“The Department has laid the groundwork for the safe transportation of the COVID-19 vaccine and is proud to support this historic endeavor,” said Chao.
The first vaccine supplies are set to become available during December, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that as supply becomes more available, all American adults are likely to be able to receive the vaccination in 2021.
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Department has played an active role in supporting the Administration’s efforts to contain and mitigate the spread of the virus, and ensure continuation of critical infrastructure support and relief for the American people,” the DOT explained. “Response measures implemented by the Department to date have included direct stakeholder outreach and guidance, expanded Federal assistance, and expedited regulatory relief.”
Still, the hours-of-service changes have been a source of concern for many safety advocates, as the new regulations allowing for longer on-duty hours and less-strict rest time regulations will allow more fatigued drivers on the roads for longer periods of time and for more hours in adverse driving conditions.
Driver fatigue has been a top concern for safety advocates across the country, with the National Transportation Safety Board focusing heavily on the issue and naming the reduction of fatigue-related trucking accidents on its ‘Most Wanted List’ of 2019-2020 safety improvements.
“These [hours-of-service changes] are opportunities for drivers to be pushed to their limits further, to drive without resting,” said the Trucking Safety Coalition’s executive director, Harry Adler, when the rule revisions were first announced. “It’s more opportunity for a driver to operate while fatigued, which is really detrimental.”