In response to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration on March 13, 2020, increasing the hours commercial vehicle drivers can be on the road without taking a break and providing certain other relief for these drivers transporting emergency relief items. The emergency declaration was expanded on April 8, 2020, and will remain in effect at least through May 15, 2020.
The FMCSA is an agency of the federal government responsible for regulating and providing oversight of commercial motor vehicles in order to reduce injuries, crashes, and deaths involving large trucks and buses. These vehicles typically exceed 10,000 pounds.
Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (Regulations), a commercial motor vehicle driver is only allowed to drive a total of 11 hours during a period of 14 consecutive hours and cannot drive after the end of the 14 consecutive hour period without first taking 10 consecutive hours off. These restrictions are in place to enhance the safety of the driver and other motorists on the road by making sure drivers are getting adequate rest before operating these large vehicles. Fatigue is a major factor linked to commercial vehicle accidents. Fatigued drivers are increasingly likely to suffer a loss of attentiveness, slower reaction times, impaired judgment, and a likelihood of falling asleep.
The recent emergency declaration, however, has exempted truck drivers who are providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to COVID -19 from complying with certain Regulations. Most notably, truck drivers are no longer required to comply with the restrictions placed on the hours that they are allowed to be on the road and driving without taking a break. The emergency declaration also exempts drivers from complying with requirements related to the inspection of their vehicles, licensing, and driver qualifications.
The emergency declaration specifically applies to drivers transporting relief items such as medical supplies and equipment relating to testing and treatment of COVID-19, supplies, and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of transmission of COVID-19, food, paper products, and other groceries, and fuel. The emergency declaration does not exempt truck drivers who are transporting routine commercial items. Nor does it exempt drivers who are transporting a majority of non-essential commercial items mixed with only a minimal amount of emergency relief items.
The movement of supplies and goods is more important than ever during these times. While the relaxation of the Regulations will allow drivers to better assist with relief efforts and ensure goods and supplies needed to combat COVID-19 are being efficiently and quickly transported throughout the country, it will almost certainly result in drivers operating large commercial vehicles for increased periods of time without receiving the necessary sleep required to do so.
Now, more than ever, drivers need to be extremely cautious and alert when driving near or attempting to pass large trucks on the roads and highways. These larger vehicles are unable to stop as quickly as cars to avoid potential accidents. The potential for an accident is only increased if you add in the possibility that the truck driver is suffering from fatigue due to increased driving hours. Given their size, accidents involving commercial vehicles can often lead to catastrophic and debilitating injuries. Exercising an abundance of caution while driving during these uncertain times is more important than ever.
The Collins Law Firm represents victims of commercial truck accidents. If you have been injured in a crash involving a commercial truck or van, please call our truck accident attorneys at (630) 527-1595 or fill out our contact form for a FREE consultation. For more information, please see our Truck Accident page.