More Limited Emergency Waivers Proposed by FMCSA
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration seeks to restrict the suspension of trucking laws for immediate emergency help provided by motor carriers and drivers. Concerns over the extensive, prolonged, and widespread emergency exemptions for the COVID-19 epidemic, which the EPA permitted to expire in late October, led to the creation of the proposal.
Presently, when the president, a governor, or FMCSA declares an emergency, section 390.23 of chapter 49, Code of Federal Regulations, automatically creates a 30-day exemption from 49 CFR sections 390 through 399 when a motor carrier or driver offers direct assistance to support disaster relief operations.
The agency stated that it thinks the majority of emergencies justifiably deserve relief from the typical hours of operation limitations in order to provide crucial supplies and services in a notice of proposed regulation published in the Federal Register on December 8.
However, it noted that many times other safety rules don’t directly affect the capacity to offer emergency help. Examples comprise:
- necessary qualifications for drivers.
- standards for alcohol and drugs.
- Inspection standards for vehicles.
- prohibitions against working while unwell or ill
The agency wants to limit 390.23’s automatic application to just exemptions for hours-of-service restrictions. Additionally, it suggests shortening the duration of the regional emergency waiver.
According to the FMCSA’s executive summary, this modification would clear that carriers and drivers are not permitted to disregard other significant safety standards while providing direct aid to disaster relief operations. The NPRM would make it clear that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which aren’t applicable in the majority of emergency situations, are still in force while preserving the agency’s flexibility to customize emergency regulation relief to the particular circumstances of an emergency.
Exemptions under COVID-19
According to the agency, the emergency exemptions regulation was adopted in 1992 with regional emergencies in mind. But in wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the president issued an emergency proclamation on March 13, 2020, and the FMCSA released its first national emergency proclamation.
Both announcements automatically resulted in a 30-day suspension of all rules in 49 CFR sections 390 through 399. The emergency declaration was repeatedly extended by FMCSA, which also changed the goods that qualified as emergency relief depending on the circumstances, before eventually allowing it to expire in October of this year.
By the autumn of 2020, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance had petitioned FMCSA to amend sections 390.23 and 390.25 after voicing concerns about the blanket waivers.
Moreover, the agency acknowledges in its regulatory proposal that there is no evidence to support a negative impact on road safety from prior or current emergency exclusions. It did note that, prior to allowing the COVID-19 exemptions to expire, FMCSA had asked for feedback on how heavily motor carriers were still relying on the emergency declaration under COVID-19 and whether there had been any effects on safety.
Emergency Regulatory Exemptions: Proposed Changes
According to the FMCSA’s proposed revisions, some of the terminology in 390.5 would be clarified and simplified without altering the regulation’s overall meaning.
The proposed amendments to section 390.23 are more substantial.
While a 30-day exemption from all FMCSRs in sections 390 through 399 would still be triggered by presidential pronouncements of emergency, the proposed rule would shorten the automatic regulatory respite for regional crises. Instead of the current 30 days, it would only be valid for five days. Additionally, it would exclude only commercial drivers from the rules on hours of duty.
According to FMCSA’s monitoring of emergency declarations, the real emergency, such as a particular weather event, usually passes within five days. Beyond that point, any emergency relief efforts are often focused on rebuilding rather than the time-sensitive emergency response situations the law was intended to address.
The automatic regulatory exemption would only apply to the hours-of-service rules in the case of a local emergency. No changes there; this regulatory respite was originally only valid for five days.
Yet, the exemption for home heating fuel would remain unchanged. The Reliable Home Heating Act stipulates that when a government announces a state of emergency due to a lack of residential heating fuel, the automatic regulatory relief lasts for 30 days and excludes those carriers from all regulations in parts 390 through 399. Section 390.23 would maintain this requirement. Additionally, it will continue to state that the governor may prolong the original automatic exemption twice for a total of 90 days.