As truck drivers nationwide scramble to meet red-hot demand for groceries and medical supplies during the coronavirus fight, federal regulators have relaxed regulations governing how many hours a driver can spend behind the wheel, according to a ruling Wednesday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
FMCSA, which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation, first lifted the Hours of Service (HOS) cap in a March 13 “emergency declaration” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and now says the policy will apply through May 15. It otherwise would have expired on April 12.
“This extension of the Emergency Declaration addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies, equipment, and persons, and provides necessary relief from the FMCSRs for motor carriers and drivers engaged in the transport of essential supplies, equipment and persons,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen said in the statement.
In addition to federal regulators lifting regulations, some states have also loosened their transportation safety requirements to enable faster deliveries of emergency materials. Trucks carrying Covid-19 relief supplies can now carry heavier loads after weight limits were raised by New Jersey, Michigan, and about a dozen other states.
FMCSA also expanded the terms of the ruling beyond initial restrictions that had stipulated that drivers would only qualify for longer hours if they were hauling essential goods, such as food, cleaning supplies, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospital workers. The agency initially expanded that ruling on March 18 to allow mixed loads of both essential goods and “routine commercial” items, while still holding that trucks must contain more than just a “nominal” amount of a qualifying emergency material. In its latest ruling, FMCSA said the exemption now also covers “liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems.”
Despite the expansion of legitimate cargo, the ruling is still restricted to motor carriers and drivers providing “direct assistance” in support of relief efforts related to the Covid-19 outbreaks. “Direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) incident to the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies (such as food and fuel) related to Covid-19 outbreaks during the emergency,” Mullen said.
The list of qualifying cargo includes:
To see further coverage of the coronavirus crisis and how it's affecting the logistics industry, check out our Covid-19 landing page. And click here for our compilation of virus-focused websites and resource pages from around the supply chain sector.