How COVID-19 Made Trucking Accidents More Likely
Commercial Truck drivers throughout the United States perform vital and important logistics functions. They deliver food, medicine and other vital goods – even in the face of pandemic or natural disasters. In order to do this effectively, they drive large trucks that can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds. Often times, their employers push drivers extremely hard to meet deadlines – ignoring the risks that this can pose. Due to this, Federal and State governments have imposed what are known as “Hours of Service” (HOS) regulations to limit the amount of continuous time a driver can be on the road and to try to minimize truck accidents caused by fatigue. However, the COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in a relaxation of these rules – leading to a higher likelihood of truck accidents in the United States.
Hours of Service Regulations
Truck Drivers and Trucking Companies are required to abide by Federal and State regulations anytime they are on America’s road. If they cross state lines – move in interstate commerce – they must follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s regulations related to Hours of Service. In sum, these regulations state that:
- A driver of a commercial truck is permitted to drive for 11 hours in a 14 hour window. This period of time provides for needed breaks and naps. Once they have driven this amount of time, they must rest for 10 hours before driving again; and
- Any truck driver that has been driving for 8 consecutive hours must rest for 30 minutes; and
- There is a 60/70 hour limit for on-duty truck driving time over 7/8 days. Once this is exhausted, the driver must rest for 34 or more consecutive hours before continuing to drive.
These regulations are in place to minimize the amount of fatigue for truck drivers on America’s roadways. The fact is that truck accidents are often devastating, so these rules are in place to try to minimize the risk of these injuries as much as possible.
COVID-19 and Hours of Service Regulations
Shortly after the Federal Government declared a nationwide state of emergency on March 13th, 2020, the FMSCA began issuing a number of regulatory waivers to the trucking industry. One notable waiver was to suspend the Hour of Service regulations for all 50 states and Washington, D.C. – so long as the drivers were provided supplies for the Coronavirus outbreak.
By execution of this Emergency Declaration, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks are granted emergency relief from Parts 390 through 399 of Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations, except as restricted herein. Direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) incident to the immediate restoration of essential services, such as medical care, or essential supplies such as food, related to COVID-19 outbreaks during the emergency..
The FMCSA further clarified what it meant by “direct assistance for emergency relief by stating:
This Emergency Declaration provides regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations that are providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks, including transportation to meet immediate needs for: (1) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19; (2) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants; (3) food for emergency restocking of stores; (4) equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19; (5) persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and (6) persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response. Direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, or transportation of mixed loads that include essential supplies, equipment and persons, along with supplies, equipment and persons that are not being transported in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks. Direct assistance terminates when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo or provide services that are not in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.
While this waiver is limited in its scope, the affect is that more drivers will be on America’s roads while fatigued. While trucking companies maintain that this does not limit their responsibility to monitor drivers and ensure that they are operating safely – the results are inevitably that more drivers will push themselves beyond their bodies capability. As the Transportation Research Board concluded:
Indeed, of all the factors investigated, driver fatigue turned out to be the most frequent cause [of truck accidents].
The waivers are set to remain in effect until February 21st, 2021 – or until such time as the national state of emergency declaration is rescinded.
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