On March 13th the FMCSA issued a “National Emergency Declaration for Commercial Vehicles Delivering Relief in Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak”. This declaration is the first time that the FMCSA has issued a nation-wide hours-of-service relief to commercial vehicle drivers, this one issued for drivers who are continuing to transport emergency relief during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Because of the decisive leadership of President Trump and Secretary Chao, this declaration will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently. FMCSA is continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak and stands ready to use its authority to protect the health and safety of the American people,”FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen
Changes to Hours of Service Requirements
The declaration allows for modifications to the previous requirements that commercial drivers had as to the number of hours allowed on the road, in relation to the number of hours not driving. The declaration is stated to be regulatory relief for operators who are providing direct assistance to emergency relief efforts including such things as medical supplies and equipment, emergency restocking of shelves, equipment and supplies for establishing and managing quarantine facilities, transporting people designated for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes or to provide medical or other emergency services.
The emergency relief hours-of-service requirements, as per the FMCSA emergency declaration, state that once a driver has completed their delivery, they must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers. This is a vastly simplified set of requirements than those used under normal circumstances, as laid out here by the FMSCA. The standard hours of service regulations for commercial drivers have very specific limits to driving times, which have now been removed for those drivers involved in relief efforts, instead stating simply that a break is required “once a driver has completed their delivery”.
On March 18th the FMSCA followed up their initial declaration with an “Expanded Emergency Declaration” issued by Jim Mullen, the Acting Administrator. In this further explanation of the emergency action, it was made clear that these modifications to the hours of service requirements do not apply to routine commercial deliveries, but only to those efforts which are specifically providing direct assistance to the emergency relief efforts for COVID-19 response. This allows for a driver to return empty (from direct assistance to relief efforts) to the motor carrier’s terminal or the driver’s normal work reporting location without complying with 49 CFR Parts 390 through 399.
No Changes to Testing Requirements
The expanded declaration also made it clear that the above mentioned, specific exceptions to hours of service, do NOT exempt commercial drivers from any of the other requirements of the 49 CFR. Commercial drivers are still required to fulfill the controlled substances and alcohol use and testing requirements (Part 382), the commercial driver’s license requirements (Part 383), the insurance requirements (Part 387), hazardous material regulations (Parts 100-180) and all other regulations and requirements other than those exempted under 49 CFR §390.23.
This means that there will be no changes in the drug and alcohol testing requirements set out by the DOT in 49 CFR §40 and §382. All employers of commercial drivers are expected to continue the implementation of the drug testing requirements for their drivers, as per the 49 CFR §40, including pre-employment testing, post-incident test, follow-up testing, reasonable suspicion, and random testing.