Shannon Law Group - April 2020



The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) hours of service (HOS) requirements limit the amount of driving and working hours for interstate over-the-road truck drivers. The FMCSRs also establish the minimum time drivers must rest between driving shifts. The HOS requirements have one purpose: to reduce truck crashes caused by fatigued drivers. In response to the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) suspended hours of service (HOS) requirements for truck drivers transporting emergency medical supplies (test kits, hand sanitizer, and other equipment) and food being shipped in relief effort response to shortages. The FMCSA emergency declaration only exempts truck drivers providing “direct assistance” with relief efforts. While municipalities and states have temporarily lifted the requirements in response to natural disasters, this temporary exemption marks the first time the HOS regulations have been lifted on a national level since the requirements were first enacted in 1938. When it became clear that America was going to undergo quarantine scenarios similar to what Italy and China have undergone, Americans flocked to grocery stores to stock up on hand sanitizer, canned goods, toilet paper, and more. About 70% of America’s goods are transported by truck, and the demand for truck drivers increases during times of national crisis and panic purchasing.

However, as with seemingly everything involving the COVID-19 outbreak, it is a fluid situation that can change at any moment. Eligible drivers are still discouraged from driving while fatigued. However, the HOS and electronic logging requirements were the FMCSRs primary tool to prevent hardworking truck drivers from overworking themselves. Most truck drivers are paid by the mile, so there is an inherent incentive for them to drive for as many hours as they possibly can. This fact is why the FMCSA recently mandated electronic logging devices for motor carriers. For too many years, drivers could avoid the HOS requirements by submitting phony log books to their employer. So, what does the temporary HOS exemption mean for highway safety? Unfortunately, it likely means a spike in crash-related injuries and deaths resulting from higher numbers of truck-related crashes. While the increased demand for truck drivers during this time is undeniable, the exemption necessarily puts more fatigued truck drivers on the road. Fatigued drivers are dangerous drivers, especially when behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound semi-tractor trailer. Years ago, Joe represented a young father who was permanently and severely injured by a fatigued truck driver who had exceeded their HOS limits.

While we understand the urgency of the moment, we hope that the eligible drivers make smart decisions and stay off the roads when they are experiencing fatigue. While the HOS exemption is in place, it is even more important to be cognizant when driving near trucks.

At the time I am writing this article, the temporary HOS exemption is scheduled to last until April 12 at 11:59 p.m.

– Pat Cummings



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