October 10, 2023

FMCSA cuts back on relief for drivers during emergencies


WASHINGTON — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has cut back on the regulatory relief it provides for carriers and drivers during emergencies declared at the state level.

The changes, announced on Tuesday, ensure that “the relief granted through emergency declarations is appropriate and tailored to the specifics of the circumstances and emergencies being addressed,” the FMCSA stated.

“This rule also revises the process for extending automatic emergency regulatory relief where circumstances warrant and allows for potential reporting requirements when FMCSA issues an extension or modification.”

The stricter provisions mean that during a regional emergency called by a state governor as a result of weather or other supply chain disruptions, drivers and carriers will be exempt only from daily and weekly limits on driving time, but not from other requirements — such as driver medical certifications and vehicle inspection requirements — which had automatically been exempt in emergency waivers since 1992.

FMCSA has also reduced the duration of automatic relief from 30 days to 14 days for those regional emergency declarations, a middle ground after pushback from trucking groups and 27 Republican lawmakers on the agency’s initial proposal to cut it to five days.

“These commenters noted that five days may not be long enough to deal with certain emergencies, citing various examples of emergencies from recent years, where emergency relief efforts extended beyond five days,” FMCSA stated.

“Additionally, they argued that this shortened time period will require responders to focus on requesting an extension at the very time when they should be focusing on relief efforts.”

Presidential declarations of emergency — as opposed to declarations by state governors — would continue to trigger a full 30-day exemption from all regulations listed in parts 390 through 399 in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Several commenters, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, questioned why FMCSA was rolling back relief given a purported lack of data showing that such changes would improve safety. “We are concerned that this approach is a solution in search of a problem,” the Republican lawmakers contended.

In response, FMCSA said that, in certain situations, there may be a need to grant additional regulatory relief during emergencies. “However, the agency is confident that such relief can be provided using other existing authorities, as was the case of the CDL waivers during the COVID-19 emergency declaration.”

The Truck Safety Coalition, which advocates on behalf of family members killed or injured in truck crashes, considers the changes “commonsense measures” for improving safety during emergencies.

“The proposed final rule narrows the scope and duration of emergency exemptions and slams the door shut on a dangerous loophole that inadvertently puts all roadway users at risk,” the group told FreightWaves.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

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