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FMCSA to tighten up rules for truckers providing relief during emergencies

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will reduce the amount of regulatory relief provided to truck drivers who are providing direct assistance after disasters, according to a new rule released this week.

On Tuesday, October 10, the FMCSA unveiled a Final Rule outlining plans to “narrow the scope” of exemption from safety regulations that truckers operate under during emergency circumstances.

The rule will go into effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Under the new rule, the FMCSA will still provide relief from Hours of Service requirements for truckers providing direct assistance to emergency relief efforts, but the agency says that it sees no reason to waive other regulations, “including the driver qualification requirements of part 391, vehicle inspection requirements of part 396, parts and accessories required by part 393, and other operating requirements such as prohibitions on operating while ill or fatigued in part 392.”

The FMCSA argues that waiving every regulation in parts 390 through 399 could have a negative impact on highway safety and has no direct bearing on a carrier’s ability to provide assistance during an emergency.

The Final Rule also clarified that an “emergency” does NOT include “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.”

The rule will also change the length of some emergency declarations. A Presidential emergency declaration will still be valid for 30 days and will provide relief from all FMCSRs in parts 390 through 399, but a regional emergency declaration issued by a Governor, a Governor’s authorized representative, or the FMCSA, will only apply for 14 days and will only provide relief from the Hours of Service regulations.

The FMCSA admits to having no “specific quantitative evidence that the current emergency exemption rules have led to a degradation of safety” but suggests that too much regulatory relief increases driver fatigue.

The FMCSA goes on to suggest that some emergency declarations issued by Governors in recent years have been frivolous:

“Examples include an emergency exemption covering all interstate shipments of goods during the month of December, to counteract supply chain issues and help increase the supply of toys and other items for Christmas, and an exemption for all shipments of gasoline to encourage more travel after the pandemic. FMCSA considered the increase in the number of inappropriate emergency declarations as another reason to initiate this rulemaking, to clarify those instances when emergency exemptions are appropriate.”

For more, you can view the Final Rule here.

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