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  • Allen Czermak

FMCSA Extends Emergency Declaration No. 2020-02

Many truck operators were pleased to hear that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has extended the emergency declaration through November 30th, 2021. This allows drivers to continue to run routes beyond the hours of service (HOS) for cargo that is deemed to be related to the national emergency. That means for any truck that is transporting goods such as medical supplies, personal protection gear, food, and other living essentials, the hours of service (HOS) are suspended. At the same time drivers need to still clock their hours and get enough rest to operate a tractor trailer safely.

FMCSA Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 was issued back in March of 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time there was a major flaw in both global and domestic supply chains that led to shortages of supplies like personal protection equipment and many other living essentials. People were in a nationwide lockdown and basic items like paper towels, plastic gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer were nowhere to be found. If a store had received some of these items, the supply would quickly dwindle due to the fight-or-flight response mindset of people at the time. Basic food items such as meat and poultry were being hoarded with select individuals loading up shopping carts with packages of chicken leaving none for the other shoppers. This situation only worsened as chances were there was most likely enough for the regular weekly shoppers; it's just that the stores did not anticipate the customers to hoard.

In the hospitals and nursing facilities it was more serious than not getting a package of poultry. Nurses in NYC hospitals were reusing face masks and wearing trash bags for protection when treating patients for coronavirus. In addition, there was a shortage of ventilators for people who needed assistance breathing due to their lungs being severely infected from COVID-19. It was a very scary time but was most frustrating of all was the fact that these items were actually available. It's just that they could not be delivered in a timely manner as there was a serious problem in the domestic supply chain. Drivers were ready to haul these items across the United States but they were bound to the hours of service (HOS) by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

In the height of the pandemic, in March of 2020, the FMCSA decided to suspend all hours of service (HOS) constraints for essential items that were directly related to the coronavirus disease. After the emergency declaration, freight operators were now able to get these essential items to their final destinations quicker while still getting enough rest to operate their trucks safely. Ever since March, the FMCSA has extended the emergency declaration multiple times and drivers were waiting to see if they would let it expire or continue to suspend hours of service (HOS). On August 31, 2021, the FMCSA gave the official word to extend Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 that includes the HOS waiver.

Hours Of Service Rules For Truck Drivers

To get a clear idea as to why truck drivers are so pleased with the FMCSA Emergency Declaration extension it’s important to understand the hours of service (HOS) rules for freight operators. Truck drivers need to keep in mind a four number set for safe driving which is 8, 11, 14, and 70. Each of these numbers pertain to a limitation of hours of operation to maintain safe driving and at the same time being well rested. Keep in mind that driving can take a toll on a person's body and truckers have to be well rested to operate an 80,000 pound hunk of steel without harming themselves and anyone on the road.

Hours Of Service 8 Hour Rule - When a truck driver begins their route they are required to take a 30 minute break per every 8 hours of driving. Drivers can take the 30 minute break at any point within the 8 hour window but will often do 6 to 7 hours of driving prior to taking the 30 minute break. Physiologically, people like to know that they have completed most of the trip prior to breaking, knowing that when they get back on the road they only have a few hours left for the last leg of the trip (not always does it work like that but it is very common).

Hours Of Service 11 Hour Rule - Truck drivers cannot exceed 11 hours of driving in a single day. This is not to be confused with the 8 hour rule where a 30 min break is required and then they can continue on their way. Another caveat to the rule is that there must proceed a 10 hour off duty break for the daily allowance of 11 hours.

Hours Of Service 14 Hour Rule - As soon as any truck driver goes on duty they must start the pre-trip clock and they are limited to work 14 hours a day. That does not mean that they can drive for 14 hours straight as explained above. The 14 hours is the daily allowance of hours of work for a single day in the week. It does not make a difference if they start their day at 5 am or 5 pm, the 14 hour clock begins when they start their work day (or sometimes work night).

Hours Of Service 70 Hour Rule - The 70 hour rule is probably the most simple as freight operators are not allowed to work more than 70 hours in one week. This is from 12 am on Sunday through 11:59 PM on Saturday.

Now we can understand why many freight operators are pleased to hear that the FMCSA continues to wave hours of service until November 30, 2021. However, this is only for transporting goods that are related to the national emergency and are considered to be essentials for the domestic population. Drivers cannot simply store a pallet of hand sanitizer in their trailer and claim that they are transporting essential items. The shipment has to be primarily for shipping such items that are included in the emergency declaration.

What Items Are Included In The Emergency Declaration No. 2020-02

We are not going to discuss items related to healthcare and food supplies. All of those items are clearly essentials and are needed to assist in handling the coronavirus pandemic. Below are some of the items that people might not think are essential but actually are.

  • Livestock and livestock feed

  • Paper products

  • Gasoline and other petroleum liquids used to fuel equipment

  • Safety items like soap and disinfectants

What Happens If I Go Over HOS & NOT Transporting Essential Items?

Going beyond the hours of service can typically result in a hefty fine but how are the authorities supposed to differentiate between two rigs that look pretty much the same? Chances are that if you are hauling non essential items and go over your hours of service, you probably won’t get caught. The problem is when you are involved in an accident and a lawsuit is filed against you, attorneys will dig deep to find any violations or irregularities, and going over hours of service will work very much to your disadvantage. The last thing any hard working truck driver wants is to end up in court which can be very costly and worst of all cause you to lose your CDL license. Make sure to stick to the rules and understand that these constraints were implemented by the FMCSA to keep you and the people on the road safe.

Final Words

Whether you are a OTR truck driver or perhaps you work for one of the many intermodal transportation companies, it’s important to use an application that will allow you to clock your hours of service. This software is available for smartphones and tablets which makes it easy for drivers to keep track of their hours of service. Though freight operators may look at the FMCSA rules as a nuisance it’s there for our safety. Hours of service limitation is not only for the physical safety of operators but it’s there for their mental safety as well. Many drivers get burnt out from being on the road for weeks and often regret it when they go into overdrive.

In the meantime there has been a huge demand for trucking logistics in the domestic supply chain. People are consuming goods at high rates and businesses are trying to meet their demand. That causes the rates for shipping containers and freight to increase and businesses are willing to pay more to get their cargo sooner. With hours of service continuing to be waived for essential items, many truck drivers are capitalizing and able to fill more routes allowing them to earn more money. It’s an interesting time for truck drivers as we are in the middle of a pandemic but yet they are appreciating the influx of transport opportunities. Hopefully, everyone will stay safe and proper as we get over this pandemic.



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