A suspension of trucking safety laws has been extended due to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear when things will return to normal, and the suspension is valid at the federal level through the end of 2020.
The suspensions, which began shortly after COVID-19 started to spread around the United States, are designed to ensure that essential supplies like food and medicine can make it long distances without unnecessary stoppage during the pandemic. But the stopping in question happens because truckers are exhausted and need breaks, which is why some are worried about this indefinite suspension.
The regulations being discussed are hours-of-service laws, or HOS laws, which control how many hours a truck driver spends on the road. Usually, a commercial truck driver is only allowed to drive 11 hours in a 14-hour period. While they can work longer shifts due to this suspension, a 10-hour break is still required between jobs.
The rules apply to companies providing direct COVID-19 relief and transporting cargo from the following categories:
- 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
Other categories included in previous emergency designations have been removed from this one, like medical personnel transport; fuel and liquefied gases for refrigeration or cooling systems; toilet paper and other paper goods; precursor raw materials required for the manufacture of medical equipment and other supplies such as paper and plastic.
While it’s crucial for medical and essential supplies to make it to their destinations in a timely manner, the suspension of HOS laws raises some questions about safety on the roads and whether there’s cause for concern. Will truck drivers be stretching themselves to exhaustion due to these new rules because safety regulations are designed to prevent fatigue-related crashes? The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, oversees federal HOS laws — and the apparent priority is the transportation of coronavirus supplies.
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