FMCSA grants sweeping waiver for vehicles helping to fight western blazes

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An extensive waiver of federal rules governing motor carriers for vehicles involved in relief from fighting western wildfires was announced Friday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The exemption covers sections 390 through 399 of title 49 of the federal code, which is essentially the entire set of laws governing motor carrier transportation, including hours of service. The waiver was retroactive to August 1. 

“This Emergency Declaration provides for regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations while providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts transporting supplies, equipment, fuel and persons into and from the Affected States or providing other assistance in the form of emergency services during the emergency in the Affected States from extreme dry heat and wildfires,” FMCSA said in a statement on its website.

The waiver will run until the federal emergency is declared over or August 31, “whichever is less.”  The Affected States are defined as California, Oregon and Washington.

Even in granting the waiver, it can be complicated. It defines Direct Assistance as an activity that “terminates when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo or provide services not directly supporting the emergency relief effort or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.”

When that assistance is completed, the driver can go back to a terminal or some sort of home base without worrying about being in compliance with federal rules. “However, if the driver informs the motor carrier that he or she needs immediate rest, the driver must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before the driver is required to return to the motor carrier's terminal or the driver's normal reporting location,” the waiver statement says. “Once the driver has returned to the terminal or other location, the driver must be relieved of all duty and responsibilities and must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.”

The waiver also notes that it does not grant exemptions for rules regarding controlled substances, insurance, hazmat regulations and CDL requirements.