Trucking companies and owner-operators looking to participate in response efforts in the wake of a major storm heading for the U.S. Gulf Coast will not be subject to federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules, according to regulators.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration on July 11 – good for 30 days – lifting the HOS restrictions for 21 states in the central and southeastern United States. Tropical Storm Barry was expected to make landfall over the central Louisiana coast on July 13, moving north through the Mississippi Valley on July 14, carrying with it a dangerous storm surge and heavy rains.
“Right now you can only drive for 11 hours straight, but if you want to provide relief, moving a load from Indiana to Louisiana, for example, you would be allowed to drive straight through,” an FMCSA source told FreightWaves. The interstate highway distance between Indianapolis, Indiana and New Orleans, Louisiana is roughly 850 miles.
Drivers responding to provide direct assistance such as drinking water, generators, and other temporary relief are exempt from HOS regulations in all states on their route to the emergency, even if those states are not included in the stated emergency declaration, according to the FMCSA.
Also, “even though safety regulations may be suspended, drivers and carriers are expected to use good judgment and not operate vehicles with fatigued or ill drivers, or under any conditions presenting a clear hazard to other motorists using the highways,” the emergency order states.
The exemptions do not apply to requirements relating to commercial driver’s licenses, the use of drugs and alcohol, or size and weight restrictions.
Barry is expected to dump 10-20 inches of rain over south-central and southeast Louisiana along with southwest Mississippi, with maximum amounts of 25 inches, according to a bulletin from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued at 2 p.m. EDT on July 12. The deluge is expected to “lead to dangerous life threatening flooding over portions of the central Gulf Coast into the Lower Mississippi Valley,” NOAA stated. “The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.”
The storm could exacerbate conditions caused by historically heavy rainfall in the Midwest region of the country over the last several months that have contributed to surging prices of agricultural commodities. Mississippi River barge traffic at St. Louis was stopped from May 23 through June 23 when river levels exceeded 38 feet.