Because of COVID-19 continuing to wreak havoc across the United States, regulatory waivers are being extended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding the permitted work time for truck drivers.
For commercial truckers driving property-carrying trucks, the maximum driving time has been extended once again–this time until February 28th, 2022.
“Although the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline in the U.S. following widespread introduction of vaccinations, persistent issues arising out of COVID-19 continue to affect the U.S., including impacts on supply chains and the need to ensure capacity to respond to variants and potential rises in infections,” said the FMCSA.
Because of this, commercial carriers and drivers are eligible for the hours-of-service regulation waiver, particularly those working to haul COVID relief-related medical supplies as well as any transportation regarding medical care services and other necessary pandemic response efforts.
“Therefore, a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains,” continued FMCSA in its waiver announcement. “This extension of the modified emergency declaration addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies and provides necessary relief from the [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations] for motor carriers and drivers.”
Still, the hours-of-service waiver is limited to transporters of public safety-related goods such as masks, hand sanitizer, soap, medical gloves, disinfectants, vaccines, kits for the administration of vaccines, and vaccine-related ancillary supplies. Additionally, the waiver includes the transportation of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol, food, paper products, and the emergency restocking of any distribution hub, as well as the transportation of livestock and livestock feed. Commercial drivers and carriers with current out-of-service orders are excluded from this waiver.
This emergency regulatory waiver declaration was first announced by FMCSA this summer in an effort to provide regulatory relief in regards to the maximum driving time mandates for both passenger-carrying vehicles and property-carrying vehicles. This declaration was initially designed to ease the strain on the United States’ supply chain, while the White House worked to find additional methods of expediting freight movement.
To do so, the Biden Administration implemented a specific task force that brought about new ways of keeping the country’s freight moving efficiently during the pandemic era; COVID-19 has been blamed as the major factor in commercial supply chain disruption.
Previous hours-of-service relaxation efforts allowed truckers to extend their daily driving time by two hours when working in inclement weather and to drive a total of 14 hours instead of 12. Additionally, drivers were originally allowed to divide their mandatory 10-hour rest breaks into 5-5 or 6-4 hours periods with further control of that time usage–whether they decided to use that particular time to rest or not.
Many safety advocates have lamented these flexibility-boosted waivers, citing the issue of truck driver fatigue—an issue that has become more serious than what recent statistics have shown. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board has focused heavily on fatigued driving, going as far as to add the overall reduction of fatigue-related traffic accidents to its ‘Most Wanted List’ of safety boosts for 2019 and 2020.
“Drowsy driving does not leave telltale signs,” said the board. “It is widely believed to be underreported on police crash forms.”
The trucking industry has also had a history of high levels of spending in regards to congressional lobbying and campaign contributions related to added flexibility for both truck drivers and their companies, explained FairWarning.
“These [proposals] are opportunities for drivers to be pushed to their limits further, to drive without resting,” said Truck Safety Coalition executive director, Harry Adler. “It’s more [of an] opportunity for a driver to operate while fatigued, which is really detrimental.”
If government proposals like these “are going to keep the highways as safe as–or safer than–they currently exist,” the American Trucking Association needs to dive deeper into the reality of trucker fatigue, said vice president of ATA safety policy, Dan Horvath. “We are not quick to give an immediate response. We really do take the time to do a thorough review, to work with our members.”