Hours-of-service (HOS) waivers and other exemptions issued by regulators to help trucking companies expedite distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months should include safeguards to protect truck drivers as well as other road users, truck safety groups have warned.
In a letter sent Wednesday to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation ahead of the committee’s hearing Thursday on vaccine transport logistics, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition and eight other organizations told lawmakers that moving vaccines efficiently and safely must not be mutually exclusive.
“We understand that exemptions to truck safety rules and protections may be requested in the coming months in response to the public health emergency,” the groups stated. “However, these exemptions must be narrowly tailored in time and scope with appropriate safeguards to protect not only the drivers themselves, but all road users. Additionally, we strongly oppose enshrining them in statute considering their temporary nature.”
Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expanded its ongoing emergency HOS waiver to include carriers hauling COVID-19 vaccines in anticipation of the vaccines receiving certification for distribution. The modified exemption also extended the deadline for the exemption’s expiration from Dec. 31 to Feb. 28, 2021.
The FMCSA has attempted to ensure that safety is not compromised by the exemptions by including a list of nine restrictions and limitations. The truck safety groups emphasized in their letter, however, that “negative consequences to public safety must be minimized” by ensuring exemptions:
- Are limited to the duration of the national emergency declaration.
- Are not overly broad but instead are constructed in a way that clearly delineates goods and services that are essential for direct pandemic response.
- Include precise language that these exemptions cannot be used to justify any future rollback or repeal of truck safety rules.
The groups also cited truck fatality data, noting a 48% rise in deaths in 2019 government estimates compared to 2009.
“The heroic efforts of truck drivers during this crisis are commendable, and they deserve a safer ‘work environment’ in which to conduct their essential work,” they stated.
“Unfortunately, numerous lifesaving truck safety advances have lagged for years, including requirements for automatic emergency braking systems, speed limiters, effective underride guards, adequate driver training, and obstructive sleep apnea screening and treatment. Failure to take action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have needlessly imperiled the safety of all road users — truck drivers and motorists.”
FedEx Express and United Parcel Service are scheduled to testify at Thursday’s hearing.
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