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FMCSA considering limiting scope of emergency waivers

Relief would apply only to daily and weekly hour-of-service limits

FMCSA says safety has not been affected by current HOS emergency waivers. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing to roll back the relief automatically given to commercial truckers and trucking companies when disaster strikes.

The change, which would alter a rule established in 1992, would mean that during a regional emergency caused by weather or other supply chain disruptions, drivers and carriers would be exempt only from daily and weekly limits on driving time and not other requirements that are also exempt in current emergency waivers.

Those other requirements, found in parts 390 to 399 of federal regulations that are all automatically exempted in emergency current waivers, include driver qualifications, motor vehicle inspections and prohibitions on operating while ill or fatigued.

In addition, instead of regional emergency declarations triggering a 30-day exemption, automatic relief would apply for only five days.

Presidential declarations of emergency would continue to trigger a 30-day exemption from all regulations in parts 390 through 399.

“Based on agency subject matter expertise and input from states, affected localities, industry groups and others, FMCSA believes that most emergencies justify allowing carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in responding to the emergency relief from the normal hours of service (HOS) limits to deliver critical supplies and services to the communities in need,” FMCSA stated in its proposal, which will publish in the Federal Register on Thursday.

“However, other safety regulations … often have no direct bearing on the motor carrier’s ability to provide assistance to the emergency relief efforts. By limiting the scope of the current rule on emergency regulatory relief, the [proposed rule] would clarify that the [federal regulations] not relevant to most emergency situations remain in effect while retaining the agency’s flexibility to tailor emergency regulatory relief to the specific circumstances of an emergency.”

FMCSA acknowledged there could be costs involved with limiting any benefits that drivers and carriers receive from the non-HOS exemptions included in current emergency waivers. “However, as most emergency exemptions are limited to [HOS] requirements … the Agency believes this change would not result in incremental costs relative to the baseline,” FMCSA stated.

Safety advocates have pushed in recent years to limit the scope and duration of blanket emergency waivers, pointing out potential safety risks. 

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) told FMCSA in 2020 that while it may be appropriate to waive HOS regulations to expedite delivery of emergency supplies, waiving drug and alcohol drug and alcohol requirements, for example, “does nothing to expedite the delivery of emergency products or services, but may have a serious negative impact on highway safety,” according to a petition CVSA submitted to the agency.

FMCSA stated in its proposal, however, that it “has no information suggesting that existing emergency exemptions have negatively impacted road safety.” 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


  1. Matt Brewer

    Just do away with exemptions all together! Because if I can’t safely do my job unless there is a hurricane, flooding, or I’m hauling live animals how can I be trusted to do it all. We need less regulation! Who needs a computer to tell you when you’re tired? In 23 years I have never run elogs and amazingly I have no preventable accidents and no out of services. Now how was I able to do all those millions of miles without a computer telling me when to go to bed. Make me run one and you damn well better have a steering wheel holder ready!

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John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.