The strain that the coronavirus is placing on medical facilities is making it more difficult for carriers to fulfill some of the regulations for keeping drivers on the road legally and may require more action from federal regulators.
Action by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could come in the form of a waiver or temporary moratorium on parts 382 and 383 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) that address drug and alcohol testing and commercial driver’s license (CDL) standards. The emergency waivers issued so far apply specifically to goods and personnel moving in direct response to COVID-19.
“The big issue we’re dealing with now is the medical certification,” Tim Wiseman, a managing partner with the law firm Scopelitis, told FreightWaves. “A lot of drivers are having difficulty getting their medical exam,” which is required at least once every two years, and more frequently if the driver has a medical condition. “But given the coronavirus situation right now, a lot of drivers are having difficulty getting into a U.S. DOT-certified medical examiner because medical facilities are focused on these other issues.”
Wiseman pointed out that medical certification is tied to a CDL, and that in most states once a driver’s medical certification expires, their CDL is automatically suspended. “I think the FMCSA is looking to further expand exemptions to address issues where the driver’s CDL license is impacted because they can’t get into a doctor to perform their DOT medical exam.”
There’s also the question of drug testing. Many hospitals and clinics that would normally perform drug testing for drivers either for pre-employment screening or after an accident now do not have the capacity to accept healthy people for drug-test screening. That’s directly affecting carriers’ hiring process and driver work availability.
“The other issue is, drivers are reluctant to go to a hospital or clinic because they’re afraid of exposure to the coronavirus,” Wiseman said. “That’s a big concern for the drug-testing protocol right now for CDL drivers.”
Wiseman also said drivers should be aware of two parts of the FMCSR that are waived under the FMCSA’s current emergency declaration. Part 391, which covers driver qualifications, has a restriction against drivers under 21 hauling interstate. “So a carrier that has an employee under 21 could drive a commercial motor vehicle in emergency relief efforts,” he said.
Part 396, which addresses vehicle maintenance inspection, requires that all commercial vehicles be inspected by an authorized DOT inspector once a year. However, with the emergency exemption in place, if for some reason the driver can’t get his truck inspected and the one-year maintenance date has expired, “the driver can continue to provide relief efforts even though technically their truck is out of compliance,” Wiseman said.