FMCSA’s COVID-19 emergency declaration expires without extension

October 17, 2022

Mark Schremmer

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration let the clock run out on an emergency declaration and an hours-of-service waiver that was in effect for more than two-and-a-half years.

FMCSA’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, which took effect in March 2020, expired on Saturday, Oct. 15.

As of the morning of Oct. 17, the agency had not responded to Land Line’s request for confirmation that the declaration had ended. However, the federal waiver was no longer listed on FMCSA’s website.

The unprecedented federal declaration gave regulatory relief to truck drivers providing direct assistance with the delivery of emergency supplies during the pandemic. The hours-of-service waiver was first issued on March 13, 2020. Since then, the agency issued numerous extensions and changes to the declaration. FMCSA’s final extension was issued on Aug. 31 and ran through Oct. 15.

Agency requested feedback

In September, FMCSA issued a notice and request for comments regarding the potential continuance of the federal waiver.

“The agency seeks public comment on the usage of the emergency declaration for the covered products,” FMCSA wrote in the September notice. “Specifically, if the usage is fit for the intended purpose of the limited relief. Commenters are encouraged to share with the agency the source of the data or information and provide recommendations on additional actions the agency should consider in monitoring the use of the declaration. Further, any data or information the agency should use in determining whether continued extension or modification of the declaration is needed. The agency also seeks public comment on the safety and supply chain impacts of the emergency declaration.”

Only two crashes

According to FMCSA data provided 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 since it began more than two years ago. Both were single-vehicle crashes. The first crash resulted in only minor injuries to the driver. The driver was uninjured in the second crash.

When the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments regarding the emergency declaration, it said the lack of crashes under the waiver indicates that truck drivers are capable of operating under more flexibility under the hours of service.

“This shows that drivers are generally not going to abuse additional hours-of-service flexibility at the risk of highway safety,” OOIDA wrote on Sept. 21. “An experienced driver will know when they need to rest or take a break, and this data shows that more practical hours-of-service rules allow drivers to use their time more efficiently without endangering other highway users. We encourage FMCSA to take further action to promote hours-of-service flexibility starting with expanded split sleeper options or letting drivers pause their 14-hour clock up to three hours if necessary.”

OOIDA contends that the rigidness of the hours-of-service regulations can hinder safety.

“We believe granting additional hours-of-service flexibility will provide drivers more opportunities to rest when they are tired, to maintain greater control over their own schedules, and allow them to work more efficiently.”

Other waivers

Although the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration was not extended, multiple regional and state emergency declarations remain in effect. LL

WWWilliams

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.