This March, under the circumstances of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) temporarily suspended its Hours of Service (HOS) laws. The agency made the decision in response to the declaration of national emergency issued by the President. The purpose of the temporary suspension was to provide truck drivers and their carriers with necessary flexibility in order to transport services and goods for COVID-19 emergency relief and supply operations.

Initially, July 15 was set as the end date for the suspension of the HOS laws. However, because of the continuing pandemic, FMCSA has extended the suspension until September 14.

The reason for Hours of Service rules

HOS regulations were initially implemented as a result of the serious threat fatigued drivers pose to others on roadways. These regulations are designed to set the work hour parameters of any individual operating a commercial vehicle in the United States. The rules restrict the number of hours on a daily and weekly basis commercial truck drivers can operate such vehicles. The regulations also set a minimum time period drivers must have and use to take breaks in between one driving shift to the next.

Commercial truck drivers are required to maintain a record of their working hours in a log book. This is how the HOS rules are enforced. Upon examination, these records reveal how many hours the driver spent driving and resting. Serious truck accidents and injuries can occur when drivers violate these rules and end up extremely tired or falling asleep at the wheel.

Materials and services still not subject to HOS laws

The extension of the HOS rules suspension is now shorter than the list from the emergency declaration issued in March. The current exemptions apply to commercial drivers and motor carriers that are delivering direct assistance for emergency relief activities connected with COVID-19:

  • Medical equipment and supplies associated with the diagnosis, testing, and treatment of COVID-19
  • Livestock and livestock feed
  • Equipment and supplies required for community sanitization, safety, and prevention of the transmission of COVID-19 within the community, such as hand sanitizer, soap, disinfectants, gloves, and masks
  • Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores

“Direct assistance,” as specified by the FMCSA, does not include regular commercial deliveries, including loads that contain a relatively insignificant quantity of eligible emergency relief added in order to secure benefits from the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

Certain items that were a part of the HOS laws exemption at the outset in March are now no longer included. These materials and services include:

  • Liquefied and fuel gases for cooling or refrigeration systems
  • Precursor raw materials necessary to manufacture medical equipment and other supplies such as plastic and paper
  • Medical personnel transport

Could greater workloads lead to drowsy driving?

The emergency declaration makes it easier for trucking carriers to handle the urgent shipping needs of their customers and also meet critical demands and requirements in the supply chain during this time. However, trucking companies need to understand that the rule suspensions are temporary and only apply to drivers responding to needs associated with the COVID-19 situation. The temporary suspension does not cancel current state laws that are not otherwise forestalled by federal regulations, such as rest break and meal provisions specified by states.

The FMCSA, upon issuing the extension, also reviewed truck driver safety rules that are to be followed at all times. Even though the suspension of the HOS laws gave drivers shipping products and services related to the COVID- 19 emergency relief the ability to work more hours, they are still required to take a 10 hour off-duty break between trips. Truck drivers are more susceptible to drowsy (or fatigued) driving as the opportunity for more hours are available. However, the off-duty requirements, if followed properly, are in place to control and prevent that issue.

In addition, any commercial truck driver that informs his or her trucking carrier of the need for immediate rest must be given 10 consecutive hours off.

At Martin & Helms, we understand the devastation caused by the negligent actions of fatigued truck drivers. If you have sustained injuries in a truck accident resulting from such negligence, we are here to help. Call us today at 256.539.1990 or fill out our contact form to arrange a free consultation. We have offices in Huntsville and Decatur and serve clients in Athens, Madison, and throughout North Alabama.