The Federal Motor Carrier Administration is looking to change the way emergency declarations affect rules and regulations for motor carriers. 

In the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM), the changes “would ensure that the relief granted through emergency declarations is appropriate and tailored to the specifics of the circumstances and emergency being addressed. The (FMCSA) also proposes revisions to the process for extending an automatic emergency exemption where circumstances warrant.”

The NPRM would also “modify the definition for emergency to clarify that emergency regulatory relief under rule 390.23 generally does not apply to economic conditions that are caused by market forces, including shortages of raw materials or supplies, labor strikes, driver shortages, inflation, or fluctuations in freight shipment or brokerage rates, unless such conditions or events cause an immediate threat to human life and result in a declaration of an emergency.”

Additionally, the NPRM  “would also remove the definition for emergency relief as that term would no longer be used in rule 390.23 and would amend the definition of direct assistance to incorporate the essential components of the former emergency relief definition. It would also move the definition for residential heating fuel from the text of 390.23 and place it in the definition sections, 390.5T and 390.5.”

Presidential declarations of emergency would still trigger a 30-day exemption from all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in parts 390 through 399, but the NPRM would limit the amount of time and number of carriers covered by a regional declaration of an emergency by a governor, a governor’s authorized representative or FMCSA.

The change would mean regulatory relief for five days instead of 30, and exempt drivers from HOs regulations in rules 395.3 and 395.5, instead of all regulations in parts 390 through 399.

“This change would both shorten the time the automatic regulatory relief is in place as well as limit the scope of relief provided, ensuring that any impact on safety continues to be minimized during the period of the automatic regulatory relief,” according to the NPRM. 

“FMCSA determined that the period of five days for automatic relief was appropriate for regional declarations of emergency, as its experience in monitoring emergency declarations demonstrated that in most cases, the actual emergency (e.g., the specific weather event or highway accident) is over within five days.”

“We don’t anticipate there will be any noticeable changes for drivers operating in emergency areas under these modifications and expect the agency would swiftly extend any exemption in scenarios requiring assistance after the initial five-day period,” said Jay Grimes, OOIDA’s director of federal affairs. “We also agree with FMCSA’s assessment that there is ‘no information that suggests that past or existing emergency exemptions have in fact negatively impacted road safety.’ Every emergency declaration, including the extended COVID-19 hours-of-service waiver that was in place for more than two-and-a-half years, has shown that drivers are not going to abuse HOS flexibility at the risk of highway safety. We urge FMCSA to take further action to promote practical HOS flexibility in all settings, not just emergency conditions.”

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