As the CoronaVirus outbreak keeps more and more people under lockdown in their homes, the amount of requested supply shipments and home deliveries skyrockets daily. Because of this, The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued an expanded declaration of national emergency regarding hours-of-service regulation relief to truck drivers.
While it makes sense that timely shipments are more important now across the globe than ever–especially for emergency supplies–is this what’s safest for truckers and for other drivers on the road?
The expanded declaration by FMCSA aims to give flexibility to CMV (commercial motor vehicle) operations working through emergency efforts to meet the time-sensitive needs for:
- Medical supplies and equipment, including those for the testing and treatment of COVID-19;
- Supplies needed for community safety and sanitation, such as masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, soaps, and disinfectants;
- Food, groceries, and paper products for rushed restocking of stores and distribution centers;
- Immediate precursor raw materials, like paper, plastic, and alcohol that are required for essential items manufacturing;
- Supplies and equipment needed to manage temporary housing and quarantines;
- Persons designated by authorities for medical, quarantine and isolation purposes;
- Persons needed to provide medical and emergency services; and/or
“Direct assistance terminates 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 related to the COVID-19 outbreaks or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce,” the declaration stated.
“Upon termination of direct assistance to emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, the motor carrier and driver are subject to the requirements of 49 CFR Parts 390 through 399, except that a driver may return empty to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location without complying with Parts 390 through 399.”
FMCSA also explained that this is the first time it has issued nationwide relief, an effort that follows President Donald Trump’s issuing of a national emergency declaration regarding CoronaVirus.
“The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain,” said Elaine Chao, Secretary of Transportation
In addition, Amazon–the world’s largest online marketplace–announced that in response to COVID-19 it would hire 100,000 new employees, including drivers, to meet the demands of these heavy delivery requests.
While these are particularly difficult times, and it is important (sometimes vitally) for deliveries to be made in a timely manner, we have heard before why relaxing hours-of-service regulations can be detrimental for truckers and those with whom they share the road.
Still, the Trump Administration has been working to ease trucking regulations since long before the COVID-19 outbreak. Its hours-of-service flexibility proposal was presented last year, and plans to allow drivers to divide their 10-hour mandatory rest times into 5-5 or 6-4 hour splits, allowing them to have control over whether or not they are actually resting during that time.
Additionally, the proposal would extend potential driving time by two hours for truckers working during “inclement weather” or any other conditions with possible driving obstacles. It would also lengthen the maximum on-duty period from 12 to 14 hours.
Ken Levinson pointed out the problem with this approach, “It may seem like a good idea to ‘allow’ truckers extra time to make deliveries, but our clients who drive trucks for a living regularly tell us how driving in bad weather is exhausting. Because they have to focus more, they get tired faster. Doubling down by making them drive even more hours is a recipe for disaster.”
Those opposing the regulation changes point out that deaths from crashes involving big rigs hit a 10-year high in 2017, and many of those crashes are a result of truckers driving while fatigued.
The National Transportation Safety Board named that reduction of fatigue-related accidents on its “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements for 2019-2020. Additionally, the Truck Safety Coalition’s offshoot, Parents Against Tired Truckers, is working to prevent the regulation flexibility in order to keep young drivers safe from truckers driving while tired.
With more hours possible on the road with shorter rest times, it is inevitable that many truckers will be driving while fatigued, and therefore impaired. To be sure, with so many people staying home, there are likely fewer drivers on the roads, but tired truckers are still a danger to themselves and to other truck drivers.
“I wish more trucking companies were following Amazon’s lead,” said Jay Stefani. “We absolutely need important items delivered to people these days, but the answer is to hire more qualified truck drivers, not push already overworked truckers to exhaustion.”
With efforts like Amazon’s addition of thousands of new drivers, there will be an unprecedented amount of extra truckers on America’s roadways. Therefore, this may be the time when drivers will have to be more alert than ever.