New federal data reveals that COVID-19 supplies, such as tests, masks and related medical equipment, hauled under the emergency trucking hours-of-service (HOS) waiver have dropped by approximately 50% over nine months ending in July.
The new data, compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, also shows that livestock and groceries — namely food and paper products — are the primary commodities being transported by truck under the waiver, based on a review of self-reported information from carriers submitted between October 2021 and July 2022.
FMCSA plans to use this information, along with public comments submitted over the next two weeks, to help determine how much trucking companies currently rely on the emergency declaration to deliver certain commodities and whether the HOS exemption used to move them has made the process less safe.
“Commenters are encouraged to share with the agency the source of the data or information and provide recommendations on additional actions the agency should consider in monitoring the use of the declaration,” FMCSA stated in a comment request notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Wednesday.
“Further, any data or information the agency should use in determining whether continued extension or modification of the declaration is needed. The agency also seeks public comment on the safety and supply chain impacts of the emergency declaration.”
Last week FMCSA extended the emergency declaration by roughly six weeks, through Oct. 15. The nationwide declaration exempts truckers from maximum daily and weekly drive-time rules for any driver or trucking company providing direct assistance in support of the COVID-19 health emergency.
FMCSA defines direct assistance as “transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) [related] to the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies related to COVID-19 during the emergency.”
The current waiver is limited to transporting:
- Livestock and livestock feed.
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
- Vaccines, medical supplies and equipment, including kits for administering vaccines.
- Supplies and equipment necessary for preventing the spread of COVID-19, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants.
- Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.
- Gasoline, diesel, diesel exhaust fluid, jet fuel, ethyl alcohol and heating fuel, including propane, natural gas and heating oil.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), a truck safety group, has cautioned FMCSA since the emergency waiver was first issued in March 2020 to be transparent in providing data on how the trucking industry is using it.
“Our position has not changed since this emergency exemption first went into place,” Advocates’ General Counsel Peter Kurdock told FreightWaves. “We have absolutely understood the need for this because it was an unprecedented national emergency. But we also want to make sure it’s narrowly tailored and does not get enshrined into a permanent policy. What you see now is this drastic drop in medical and sanitation equipment, and the waiver is largely being left to move livestock.
“That raises the question: Do we really need this waiver for COVID relief, or is it being used by carriers that have had a long-standing hours-of-service issue — even before COVID — for moving livestock that will never be addressed if the waiver continues to be extended?”
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