DOT Adjusts Exemptions for Truck Drivers During COVID-19 Crisis

The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has relaxed hours-of-service rules for truck drivers delivering emergency relief during the coronavirus pandemic. Drivers transporting qualifying goods are now able to drive longer, farther, and with fewer breaks than during normal operations. This creates a potentially hazardous situation that motorists around the country should know and take care to avoid.

Qualifying Goods

The relaxation of hours-of-service restrictions only covers a limited list of goods and materials. It applies to drivers transporting medical supplies including disinfectants, masks, gloves, sanitizers, soaps, etc. It includes medical equipment such as respirators and medical testing devices.

Other qualifying goods include food for the emergency restocking of store shelves, equipment for the building of temporary housing and quarantine facilities, and any personnel needed to provided medical or emergency COVID-19 services. 

It should be noted that the adjustments do not apply to drivers carrying mixed loads. These drivers are still required to adhere to the standard hours-of-service regulations in place before the declaration of the national emergency.

Dangers of Drowsy Driving

FMCSA’s decision to relax hours-of-service regulations creates a significant hazard for truck drivers, motorists, and pedestrians. Each year, thousands of large truck accidents involve drowsy drivers which are why the restrictions were placed on the industry many years ago. The current declaration is open-ended and the longer it goes on, the greater the potential harm to the public. 

While the emergency declaration issued by FMCSA requires employers to provide drivers a 10-hour break upon request, it remains to be seen how many drivers will exercise this option. Given the truck driver shortage and the potential to make extra money during this time, it is highly unlikely many drivers will do this. In fact, there is every likelihood that the number of large vehicle accidents involving drowsy truck drivers will increase in the immediate future. 

Staying Safe While Driving During a Pandemic

Drivers should exercise enhanced caution when heading down the road. Not only are healthcare systems strained as they respond to the pandemic, but drivers themselves are also under intensified stress. Motorists should closely monitor the behaviors of vehicles in their vicinity for signs of drowsy driving, or aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, swerving, tailgating, etc. While EMS services are still responding as usual throughout Illinois, any trip to the ER right now could result in potential exposure to COVID-19.