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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the nation, the FMCSA emergency declaration that grants drivers Hours of Service exemptions for carrying pandemic-related cargo has been extended until May 31. The extension previously had been set to expire at the end of February.
The extension continues an historic first for the agency, which has delivered regional and statewide declarations for areas hit by a natural disaster. This continues to be the first and only declaration issued nationwide.
The declaration continues to apply to vehicles carrying goods associated with pandemic relief. Officially, the declaration gives fleets and drivers providing direct assistance to relief efforts needed in response to the pandemic relief from parts 390-399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.
“FMCSA continued the exemption “because the presidentially declared emergency remains in place and because a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains,” the agency wrote in the updated declaration.
What the FMCSA Extension Grants Fleets, Drivers
According to the updated FMCSA emergency declaration, which is one of the emergency declarations released during the pandemic, the exemption applies to drivers carrying the following type of cargo.
- Livestock and livestock feed
- Medical supplies and equipment related to COVID-19 testing, diagnosis and treatment
- Vaccines, constituent products and medical supplies and equipment – including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines – related to prevention of COVID-19
- Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 (including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants)
- Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores
The FMCSA emergency declaration notes that the “direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration.”
What the FMCSA Emergency Declaration Requires of Drivers
In the revised FMCSA emergency declaration, the agency also spells out what drivers must continue to do even with the emergency declaration in place. They include the following.
- Comply with applicable state laws and regulations, including speed limits and other traffic restrictions
- Comply with regulations regarding operation of a commercial motor vehicle while a driver’s ability or alertness is impaired or likely to become impaired through fatigue, illness or any other cause, making it unsafe for the driver to begin or continue to operate the motor vehicle.
- Fleets cannot allow fatigued drivers to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Drivers must be given at least 10 consecutive hours before returning to service.
- No texting while driving or using a hand-held mobile telephone while driving.
- No operation of a vehicle in condition to likely cause an accident or breakdown, pr operating a vehicle declared and marked out-of-service until all repairs required by the out-of-service notice have been satisfactorily completed.
- All drivers must report a crash while operating under this emergency declaration within 24 hours, by phone or writing, to the FMCSA Division Office where the motor carrier is domiciled. This includes the date, time, location, driver, vehicle identification and a brief description of the crash.
- No use of controlled substance or alcohol, or without the proper license, insurance requirements, hazardous materials regulations size and weight requirements, or any other portion of the regulations not specifically exempted
Driver exemptions end when a driver returns to delivering cargos not associated with the COVID-19 relief effort. There is a possible the FMCSA emergency declaration will get extended, depending on the situation in May.