In what is possibly the last time this will happen, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) extended a waiver from some federal commercial driver regulations to the end of August for truckers hauling emergency supplies needed to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The COVID-19 public health emergency led to widespread closures of state and federal government offices, reduction of government and medical services, and disruption of transportation systems, including driver shortages and related interruption of supply chains, which are heavily dependent on continued commercial motor vehicle operations,” the agency said.
First adopted last year, the agency had extended this regulatory relief several times, and the most recent extension had been slated to end May 31. It is now scheduled to be withdrawn on Aug. 31.
“FMCSA finds the circumstances surrounding this waiver are unique because such government and medical operations are not providing their usual level of service,” the agency said in its latest waiver. “Due to the limited scope of this waiver, the short duration, and the ample precautions that remain in place, FMCSA has determined the waiver is likely to achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to the level of safety obtained absent the waiver.”
The exemption was created by the agency because state licensing agencies across the country were closed last year during COVID-19 lockdowns, making it impossible for professional drivers to obtain commercial driver’s license (CDL) and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) approvals and renewals.
A number of states continue to have backlogs and reduced hours of operations at the agencies that issue driver licenses. In addition, many medical providers adjusted to dedicate resources to the COVID-19 response, resulting in canceled scheduled appointments for physical examinations that are required by federal regulations.
“This waiver is in the public interest because it would allow drivers covered under this waiver to deliver essential supplies and persons across state lines to address the national emergency and would aid in the economic recovery,” FMCSA said.
The waiver extends until Aug. 31, the maximum period of validity for CDLs that had been due for renewal on or after March 1, 2020, and extends the eight-year expiration period from date of issuance.
It also extends until Aug. 31 the maximum period of validity for CLPs that were due for renewal on or after March 1, 2020, without requiring the CLP holders to retake the general and endorsement knowledge tests. CLP holders also do not have to wait 14 days to take the CDL skills test.
It waives the requirement that CDL holders, CLP holders and non-CDL drivers have a medical examination and certification, provided that they have proof of a valid medical certification that was issued for a period of 90 days or longer and that expired on or after March 1, 2021. It also lifts requirements that states initiate license downgrades to drivers who have not submitted the certifications to state agencies.
In states that exercise the discretion to adopt this waiver, there is no further action required by covered drivers to obtain these benefits, FMCSA explained. Nor will the agency issue a finding of noncompliance against states for any incidences consistent with this waiver.
FMCSA added that it will continue to recognize the validity of CDLs issued by Canadian provinces and territories and Mexico when they issue similar extensions of the validity date of the medical examination and certification and validity of the corresponding CDL due to interruption to government service resulting from COVID-19.
The FMCSA exemption is limited to the transportation of needed emergency supplies and certain commodities deemed essential:
• Medical supplies and equipment related to testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
• Vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19.
• Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
• Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
• Livestock and livestock feed.
Carriers should take note: FMCSA stresses that the exemption does not cover routine commercial deliveries, “including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration.”
In addition, attorneys for the law firm of Frost Brown Todd remind employers of professional drivers that, “FMCSA reserves the right to revoke this waiver for drivers’ involvement in accidents, motor carriers’ failure to report accidents, and drivers’ failure to comply with the restrictions of this waiver.”