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HOS Exemption Extended to End of Year

HOS Exemption Extended to End of Year

Sept. 27, 2020
New hours rules also draw a court challenge from unions and safety advocates.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has extended the Hours of Service (HOS) relief granted to truckers who are hauling essential goods during the Coronavirus pandemic to the end of the year.

“FMCSA is continuing the exemption because the presidentially declared national emergency remains in place, and because a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains,” stated Wiley Dec, deputy administrator of FMCSA when he made the announcement.

“This extension addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies and provides necessary relief from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) for motor carriers and drivers,” he added.

As was the case in the previous extension announced, the exemption applies to:

  • Livestock and livestock feed.
  •  Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment 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.

 FMCSA had announced in August that had decided to add back emergency restocking of food, paper products and groceries at distribution centers or retail stores also are once again included in the HOS rules exemption, which previously had been included when the original exemption was issued by the agency in March. following the declaration of a national emergency by President Trump

As it did so in the previous extension announcement, the agency explained that the exemption covers Parts 390 to 399 of the FMCSR which, in addition to HOS, also were intended to cover topics such as inspection and maintenance of commercial vehicles, employee safety and parking rules.

Also included in the March announcement but not included since last summer were immediate precursor raw materials, that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items, such as paper, plastics and alcohol.

FMCSA stressed that the exemption also does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief truckers might choose to add in an attempt to qualify for the exemption.

 New Rules Attacked

 Before the pandemic emergency began, the Department of Transportation (DOT) adopted newly-revised HOS regulations that are scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 29. Those rules currently face a challenge in court mounted by the Teamsters union and various safety advocate groups following DOT’s rejection of their request to reopen the proceeding.

 Among the HOS changes is a modified 30-minute break rule that requires a break after eight hours of consecutive driving and allows that requirement to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.

The sleeper-berth exception has been modified to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split or a 7/3 split, with neither period counting against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window. DOT also modified the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.

In addition, DOT has lengthened the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers. Their maximum on‑duty period is now 14 hours (it was previously 12), and the agency has extended the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

FMCSA estimates that its new rules will provide nearly $274 million in annualized cost savings for the U.S. economy while continuing to promote safety on the road. Among the groups backing the changes is American Trucking Associations.

The Teamsters union, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (AHAS), Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Public Citizen and Parents Against Tired Truckers filed suit on Sept. 16 in federal court challenging the new rules, which they had objected to throughout the rulemaking process.

“By issuing this HOS regulation FMCSA has bowed to special trucking industry interests at the expense of highway safety, seeking longer workdays for drivers who are already being pushed to the limit,” said Teamsters General President James Hoffa. “We join this lawsuit to ensure that our members and their families are protected from fatigued drivers when they use our nation’s highways.”

AHAS President Cathy Chase observed, “Taking away a 30-minute break to get a cup of coffee or stretch one’s legs makes no sense, especially considering that driver fatigue is a known major contributor to crashes. If I fall asleep on the job, my head hits the keyboard. If a truck driver falls asleep, his/her head hits the windshield and that’s only part of the catastrophic outcome.”

CRASH Chair Joan Claybrook said, “FMCSA is working overtime to dismantle and weaken the minimal safety protections that still remain for drivers and the public. We hope the courts will halt FMCSA’s ill-advised and dangerous proposal.”

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