DOT Eases Truckers' Hours-Of-Service Rule Amid COVID-19

By Linda Chiem
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Law360 (March 19, 2020, 5:07 PM EDT) -- The U.S. Department of Transportation relaxed regulations limiting the hours that commercial truck drivers can spend on the road, expanding a previous order intended to expedite deliveries of food, fuel, medical equipment and other crucial supplies to combat the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Wednesday expanded an emergency declaration it issued days ago allowing commercial truck drivers transporting essential goods to detour from stringent hours-of-service, or HOS, regulations that dictate how much time they're allowed to spend driving on the road and when they're expected to rest.

The goal is to maintain the nation's supply chain and equip Americans with the goods they need most during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, according to the administration.

The directive applies to commercial truck drivers providing what the agency calls "direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts," which covers the transport of critically important medical supplies, food, fuel and household goods across the country.

That includes medical supplies and equipment for testing, diagnosing and treating COVID-19; personal protection and sanitation supplies such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants; food, paper products such as toilet paper, and other groceries to restock distribution centers or stores; fuel; and raw materials needed to manufacture essential items.

It also applies to commercial truck drivers transporting equipment, supplies or people related to setting up or managing temporary housing and quarantine; persons designated by federal, state or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, according to the FMCSA.

"The nation's truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America's supply chain," FMCSA acting administrator Jim Mullen said in a statement. "We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people."

The FMCSA's existing HOS regulations generally limit commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour "on duty" period and also require that they take 10 consecutive hours of "off duty" rest time before they can be on duty again.

The emergency declaration allows the "direct assistance" commercial truck drivers to bypass those rules. But once a commercial truck driver has completed his or her delivery, the driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and eight hours if transporting passengers, the FMCSA said.

However, truck drivers making routine commercial deliveries are still subject to federal HOS regulations, and won't be allowed to mix up their loads to add nominal amounts of emergency relief supplies in order to skirt the HOS regulations.

The American Trucking Associations, the largest trade group for the U.S. commercial trucking industry, praised the administration "for continued support to our industry as we deliver food, water, medicine, medical supplies, fuel and other essentials throughout this public health crisis."

"The men and women of the trucking industry are heroes who remain on the front lines in this national effort," Dan Horvath, ATA's vice president of safety policy, said in a statement.

--Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.

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