FMCSA extends emergency declaration through Oct. 15

September 1, 2022

Mark Schremmer

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is keeping its COVID-19 emergency declaration in place for another 90 days.

The emergency hours-of-service waiver has been in place for more than two-and-a-half years, starting in March 2020 in response to supply chain issues caused by the pandemic.

With the declaration set to expire at the end of the day on Aug. 31, FMCSA – in the final hours on Wednesday – extended the waiver through Oct. 15.

The declaration gives regulatory relief to truck drivers providing direct assistance with the delivery of emergency supplies.

According to FMCSA, 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 related to COVID-19 during the emergency.”

The current waiver is limited to the following loads:

  • Livestock and livestock feed.
  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
  • Vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment, including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19.
  • Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
  • Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
  • Gasoline, diesel, diesel exhaust fluid, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol and heating fuel, including propane, natural gas and heating oil.

Safety concerns?

Earlier in August, FMCSA told Land Line that it was aware of only two crashes involving truckers operating under the declaration in more than two years. Both were single-vehicle crashes, and neither yielded major injuries.

“Since March 2020, when FMCSA issued the COVID-19 declaration, it has been reported that two commercial motor vehicles were involved in crashes while operating under the COVID-19 declaration,” FMCSA Public Affairs wrote.”

The agency said both crashes involved propane bobtail delivery trucks.

According to FMCSA, one driver admitted to falling asleep and resulted in the driver losing control of the truck and rolling over. The driver received minor injuries, and no other vehicles were involved.

In the second crash, FMCSA said the driver admitted he was tired and backed into a building. No injuries or damages occurred.

Specific crash reports weren’t provided. FMCSA said that because neither crash resulted in major injuries or fatalities, they did not meet the agency’s criteria for a crash summary report.

FMCSA learned about the crashes through state partners or through self-reporting from the carriers. One of the crashes occurred on private property.

It is unclear how many hours either driver had been on the road or what effect, if any, the emergency declaration had on the crashes.

More flexibility?

During a House hearing in July, Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., told Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg that the use of the emergency declaration showed that greater flexibility within the hours-of-service regulations could be granted to truckers.

“I think you and I could agree that a trucker is not a safer driver because they are carrying Frosted Flakes, which might be on the waiver list, versus laundry detergent,” Mast said.

“Let’s make it permanent and extend those protocols to truckers that are carrying anything,” Mast said. “They shouldn’t have to go through the red tape of determining whether they are carrying Frosted Flakes or laundry detergent.”

Buttigieg defended the use of the emergency declaration but stopped short of saying it meant that the hours-of-service regulations aren’t necessary.

“So I think the response to that is the difference in believing that something is a responsible balance and believing that something has no safety impact at all,” Buttigieg said. “I think we’re agreed that it was the responsible way to strike a balance, especially in response to a crisis that has claimed the lives of a million Americans. I would want to see more data to suggesting that there was no safety impact at all before I could endorse your conclusion.”

Commercial learner’s permit waiver

In addition to the extension of the emergency declaration, the FMCSA on Aug. 31 also extended a three-month waiver from certain regulations applicable to commercial learner’s permit holders operating commercial motor vehicles.

The extended waiver, which was first issued on March 28, 2020, will continue through Nov. 30. It:

  • Waives the requirement that a permit holder be accompanied by a CDL holder, with the proper CDL class and endorsements, seated in the front seat of the vehicle while the commercial learner’s permit holder operates a commercial motor vehicle on public roads or highways.
  • Waives the restriction that limits a state to administer a driving skills test to an out-of-state CDL applicant who has taken driver training in that state. Under the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this waiver, a state may elect to administer a driving skills test to any out-of-state CDL applicant, regardless of where the applicant received driver training.
  • Waives the requirement that commercial learner’s permit holders are not eligible to take the CDL skills test in the first 14 days after the initial issuance of the permit. Under the terms, conditions, and restrictions of this waiver, states may, at their discretion, allow permit holders to take the CDL skills test without waiting 14 days after the initial issuance of the permit, provided the commercial learner’s permit holder has completed the applicable entry-level driver training requirements. LL

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.