AASHTO, state DOTs voice concerns over emergency declaration limits

February 3, 2023

Mark Schremmer


Several organizations, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, have voiced concerns about FMCSA’s proposal to place limits on emergency declarations.

In December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that would “narrow the scope of regulations from which relief is provided automatically for motor carriers providing direct assistance when an emergency has been declared.”

FMCSA proposes to narrow the automatic applicability of an emergency declaration (390.23) to the hours-of-service limits in 395.3 and 395.5, which are the 30-minute rest break and maximum driving time portions of the reg, respectively.

Some of the other proposed changes:

  • Modify the definition for emergency to clarify that emergency regulatory relief under 390.23 generally does not apply to economic conditions that are caused by market forces.
  • Remove the definition of emergency relief and amend the definition of direct assistance to incorporate the essential components of the former emergency relief definition.
  • Although presidential declarations of emergency would continue to trigger a 30-day exemption from all regulations in parts 390-399, the proposed rule would limit the duration and scope of the existing automatic relief when issued by a governor or a governor’s representative for the FMCSA. In these instances, the automatic regulatory relief would apply for only five days and would exempt drivers only from 395.3 and 395.5.
  • Simplify the language allowing FMCSA to extend and modify the regulatory relief outlined in 390.23.


Several organizations and state transportation departments have spoken out against FMCSA’s attempt to reduce a state’s initial emergency declaration to only five days.

“AASHTO is concerned with the proposal to reduce the initial 30-day period for regional emergencies to five days,” the group wrote in formal comments to FMCSA. “Many regional emergencies are longer. The notice of proposed rulemaking does not substantiate the need for this reduction.”

The Iowa Department of Transportation and Montana Department of Transportation also spoke out against the five-day limit.

“All emergency situations are unique in nature and limiting relief efforts to five days is burdensome and inadequate,” the Motor Carrier Services Division of the Montana DOT wrote. “(We) suggest that FMCSA consider eliminating any set time period and instead consider allowing the issuing authority to set the duration as they see fit, to adequately address the length of each specific emergency.”

No issues reported

FMCSA proposed limiting emergency declarations even though it has acknowledged that the waivers have not yielded negative safety results.

Truckers were allowed to operate under a federal emergency declaration from March 2020 until Oct. 15, 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data provided by FMCSA to Land Line, the waiver didn’t deter safety. In August, the agency told Land Line it was aware of only two crashes involving truck drivers operating under the waiver. Both were single-vehicle crashes. The first crash resulted in only minor injuries to the driver. The driver was uninjured in the second crash.

“The agency has no information that suggests that past or existing emergency exemptions have in fact negatively impacted road safety,” FMCSA wrote in the notice.

How to comment

FMCSA will accept comments on the proposal through Monday, Feb. 6. To comment, go to Regulations.gov and enter Docket No. FMCSA-2022-0028. LL