Many dangers can stem from a truck driver’s fatigue. When a truck driver is tired, his or her vision, reaction time, and judgment are extremely impaired. Fatal trucking accidents can occur due to fatigue, such as rollovers or sideswipes. To prevent fatigue from happening to truck drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) established the federal regulations known as the hours-of-service (HOS).
The HOS are regulations that the FMCSA established to help all truck drivers remain awake and alert. These regulations prevent truck drivers from driving on the road after a maximum number of hours and enforces mandatory rest periods. The regulations consist of:
- The 11-hour rule, which permits truck drivers transporting property to operate a commercial vehicle for up to 11 hours, and requires truck drivers to take ten consecutive hours off duty.
- The 14-hour rule, which prohibits truck drivers from driving a commercial vehicle after 14 consecutive hours on the road. This rule requires truck drivers to take ten consecutive hours off duty as well.
- The 60/70 hour rule, which prohibits truck drivers from driving if the truck driver has driven either for 60 hours over the time span of seven days straight, or 70 hours over the time span of eight days straight.
However, the pandemic has influenced the FMCSA to issue a waiver concerning the HOS regulations. In March of 2020, the federal agency cultivated its first-ever waiver that relaxed the hours-of-service rules for truckers aiding in the pandemic. This waiver was issued in response to the declaration of a national emergency by Congress.
Are all truckers exempt under the HOS waiver?
No, they are not. The HOS waiver applies to truck drivers who only transport necessary items related to the pandemic. The FMCSA provides a list of items that qualify for relief from the HOS regulations. Some of the items from that list include:
- Medical supplies and equipment related to Covid-19 testing
- Supplies and equipment that support community safety (i.e., hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, masks, and gloves)
- Food, paper products, and other grocery items
- Gasoline, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol, and diesel
- Supplies that aid individuals who have been affected by the consequences of Covid-19 (i.e., building materials for people who have been displaced)
- Livestock and livestock feed
The waiver is slightly different from the HOS suspensions from last year, which listed fewer goods.
Since its declaration in March of 2020, the FMCSA has extended the HOS waiver several times. The most recent waiver extension went into effect on August 31 and extended the HOS emergency declaration until November 30 of this year. As of now, it is uncertain whether the agency will continue to extend the waiver or wait until Congress no longer declares the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency.
Are these waivers risking our safety?
Because the FMCSA didn’t collect any data for the last 17 months, we don’t actually know how many trucking companies took advantage of the suspensions and waiver, or how these waivers have affected our roads. We do know that preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates a 2% decline in traffic fatalities involving trucks in 2020, but no data is available regarding the number of actual crashes or injuries.
We also know that truck safety advocates are wary of the waiver. In December 2020, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and other safety advocates petitioned Congress about the waivers, claiming that they “should include safeguards to protect truck drivers as well as other road users.” Zach Cahalan, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, told Freightwaves “that the National Transportation Safety Board routinely cites fatigue as a major factor in commercial motor vehicle crashes, ‘and this fact should factor heavily in all exemption considerations.’”
Plaxen Adler Muncy, PA, provides aggressive and comprehensive legal strategies for people injured in truck accidents or collisions with fatigued drivers. Please call 410-730-7737 or complete our contact form to discuss your goals with a Maryland truck accident lawyer today.