FMCSA Allows Emergency COVID-19 HOS Waiver to Lapse

The agency issued the declaration in March 2020 and had extended it multiple times.

October 18, 2022

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has canceled the COVID-19 emergency declaration, which waived Part 395.3 (maximum driving time) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for carriers providing emergency relief related to the pandemic, reports FreightWaves. In September, FMCSA extended the declaration to October 15, and the administration allowed the waiver to lapse.

“We evaluated the data coming back on who was using it, as well as the evaluation of the comments we received [on the last extension],” FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson told FreightWaves on Monday. “We also looked at where we are with COVID, and the guidance that has been coming out on that. All was behind the decision to let it expire.”

The declaration was first issued in March 2020, when the administration announced that drivers who were moving goods "in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks" will not have to follow the hours-of-service regulations, which limit the number hours a driver may work without rest breaks.

The initial HOS waiver did not apply to fuel transports. NACS, along with three other fuel retailing industry groups, asked FMCSA to issue a national HOS waiver for the transportation of fuel in response to the COVID-19 crisis. FMCSA previously issued an HOS waiver for truck drivers moving essential goods in support of emergency relief efforts but didn’t include fuel in the order.

“We support the HOS Waiver for the delivery of essential supplies critical to supporting public health during this crisis. Without access to fuel, however, manufacturers are unable to provide supplies to hospitals, businesses, and homes. Moreover, workers at essential businesses—including first responders and hospital workers—need fuel to get to their jobs. In addition, emergency response vehicles need uninhibited access to fuel,” the groups said in a letter addressed to FMCSA Acting Administrator James A. Mullen.

The history-making declaration was extended and/or modified over 10 times. When issued, it marked the first time the HOS rule had been suspended nationwide since it was established in 1938.

FMCSA’s decision to let the waiver lapse contrasts with the U.S. Department of Health’s recent declaration for a renewal of determination that a public health emergency still exists.

“The tools we have [to provide regulatory relief] are limited to the authorities that we have, and based on the feedback, we received we feel like we made the right call,” said Hutcheson.

FMCSA noted that certain cargo being hauled under the exemption had been steadily declining. The American Trucking Associations and the Truck Safety Coalition both agreed with the decision.

“While ATA appreciated the emergency declaration relief throughout the early stages of the pandemic, most ATA members no longer feel continued relief is necessary,” the group stated in response to FMCSA’s request for comments on the most recent extension. “ATA members continue to voice concerns that continuing regulatory relief may be used to circumvent the hours-of-service regulations or foster abuse of the regulations.”

The Truck Safety Coalition said deaths in truck crashes increased 13% between 2020 and 2021. “FMCSA must consider the deplorable state of roadway safety when considering continued regulatory relief, specifically, the unabated rise in truck crash fatalities,” the coalition stated.

Livestock and animal feed haulers were included in the waiver and wanted to extend the hours-of-service rules exemption.

“Agricultural shippers have been experiencing significant rail service challenges, and emergency truck freight has been indispensable to helping meet demand,” Michael Seyfert, president and CEO of the National Grain and Feed Association, told FMCSA.