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FMCSA Emergency Declaration – What Fleet Managers And Truck Drivers Need To Know

When Matrack called to check on our customers due to the on-going pandemic, several casual discussions led to the leeway that truck drivers on the fore front are being granted. To which, most fleet managers/owners and truck drivers themselves were found to be caught in a perplexity regarding the FMCSA response and the emergency declaration regulations.  With an urge to ensure proper guidance to carry out operations during this catastrophe, Matrack therefore decided to put together garnered information relevant to the FMCSA emergency declaration. In this blog you can understand;

  • The FMCSA Emergency Declaration for Fleets
  • Loopholes in the Emergency Declaration
  • Missing regulations of the Emergency Declaration

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) set forth a 50 state emergency declaration in response to the Novel Corona virus pandemic in an attempt to ease out the pressure building up on motor carriers and drivers that directly assist the current situation. The declaration has been designed to render temporary relief from parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). However, the emergency declaration not only brought about more confusion than clarity, but also demanded an expansion to exemptions to suit the predicament.

The FMCSA therefore expanded the declaration first on the 18th of March and again on the 8th of April after its original declaration that was announced on the 13th of March 2020. Despite amendments made to the original emergency declaration, motor carriers and drivers were still puzzled with ample confusion about what exactly is included and exempted in the temporary expansion.

To clear the opacity let us first understand the expansion owing to the emergency declaration.

As a fleet owner/manager, it is indeed important to stay in line with the FMCSA rules and regulations that continue to change in order to suit the pandemic situation.

FMCSA Emergency Declaration for Fleets

  • The temporary expansion and waivers for fleets and carriers were to expire on the 12th of April 2020, which has now been extended to the 15th of May, 2020 or until President Donald Trump abolishes the national emergency brought about by the pandemic
  • The emergency declaration states that there is no exemption for compliance with state laws and regulations which includes traffic violations and over speeding
  • While truckloads/fleets carrying raw material are exempt, mixed loads are not. In the case of mixed loads, a nominal amount of essential load is a mandate for general acceptance
  • Packing for food items, wood pulp, raw materials used to manufacture bleach, disinfectants, hand sanitizers and similar items are covered in the emergency declaration
  • 10 hours of rest after completing a day’s work is a mandate according to the declaration. This means fleet drivers cannot compromise on their needed hours of rest
  • Time spent while getting to work by personal means is not regarded as “on duty” time
  • Despite the emergency relief of parts 390 through 399 of the FMCSRs, the declaration is also very clear about safety considerations thereby prohibiting an unfit driver to take on or complete any given ride. This means if a driver is impaired, can become impaired, tired, etc. the expansion does not permit him to drive. It also rules out drunken driving completely. Fleet managers can ensure the same by making thorough checks on drivers before assigning them a trip
  • None of the hours of service regulations apply when the driver is engaged with providing direct assistance under the emergency relief exemption
  • Hours of service that is provided for direct assistance under the emergency relief exemption is not counted in the 60/70- hour rule
  • Fleets and carriers do not need to possess specific documentation necessary to confirm that a driver is operating under the exemption. However, ordinary business records, such as the bill of lading, etc. could be maintained for future inspection, if any
  • The transport of food products in the first declaration stirred up confusion among truck drivers and carriers. It was not very obvious about what all came under emergency restocking of stores. There was perplexity whether the food transferred between manufacturers and distributors was a consideration in the expansion at all. The revised declaration then issued an inclusion of all food shipments at any point in the supply chain to the temporary expansion
  • The emergency exemption includes relief from all the hours-of service regulations in 49 CFR part 395. This means, maintaining a log book or ELD record is no mandate for fleets, temporarily

As maintaining a record is not compulsory now, drivers wondered what they could do about the ELD installed in their vehicle when it comes to accounting for the miles driven. If you have a Matrack ELD installed to make your fleet operations simpler, here are a few options for your vehicles;

  1. Drivers from your fleet could use the “authorized personal use” (personal conveyance) function that our ELDs house, in order to record time spent providing direct assistance under the exemption. This would put the driver on “off duty” mode. This particular ELD feature also demands a note added for having chosen the option.
  2. Drivers could also use the normal mode on the Matrack ELD and put a note for the direct assistance related extra hours.
  3. Drivers could simply turn off the Matrack ELD in the vehicle.

Loopholes in the Emergency Declaration

As the expanded declaration has put an exemption on precursor raw material, it is extremely important that fleets and carriers understand the detailing behind this regulation.

  • Although hauling immediate precursor raw materials such as paper, plastics or alcohol would not mean violating the law, a driver should be vigilant that the raw material he transports is used for the manufacture of items such as medical supplies and equipment, food, paper products, disinfectants and other essential grocery items only. It is also important to note that every raw material does not come under this expansion. For example: plastic used to build a fancy chair does not qualify as essential raw material, nor does pet food or paper used for magazines.
  • To make sure that the expansion and exemptions of the FMCSA declaration are not being misused, trucking companies should consider maintaining documents that ensure what the raw material being transported is going to be used for. For example; if plastic is being transported, it should be documented in writing or email that the plastic is being transported to manufacture water bottles, food packing equipment, disinfectant bottles, etc.
  • As per the FMCSA declaration, feed, fertilizer, livestock and wood are to be treated as precursor material. However, if the wood pulp is not being used for a COVID-19 purpose, it would mean misusing the expansion. As a responsible fleet manager/owner, you should therefore ensure that the material being transported by your fleet is a COVID-19 essential.

As the amendments cleared out a lot of the building confusion, there are still a few regulations that are applicable but are not mentioned anywhere in the emergency declaration.

Missing regulations of the Emergency Declaration

  • The expansion while exempting raw material transportations stated that mixed loads would be exempted only if there is a nominal quantity of essential raw material. However, how much would qualify as nominal quantity was never mentioned.
  • Although drivers are not exempt from the drug and alcohol testing, there is a COVID-19 testing guidance provided by the FMCSA on their website, which is not mentioned in the declaration. However, as fleet manager/owner it is important that you maintain a strict rule regarding the same within your company.
  • The emergency declaration also does not say anything about the three month waiver for commercial driver’s licenses or waivers granted to medical cards that have or will expire after the 1st of March. As fleet manager/owner, you could educate your drivers about the same.

The FMCSA is working closely with states to ensure adequate parking and other facilities for truck drivers.

It is important to note that emergency declarations may differ between two different states. It would be wise to also check yours and the state’s, you are travelling to, websites to understand how much of the declaration, are the respective states complying with. You could find this information here.

 “It is extremely important that drivers and motor carriers do an extensive research on informative websites like Matrack to be doubly sure of the FMCSA regulations and gain a deeper insight to the temporary expansion and exemptions” says Cam Smith, VP at Matrack. “Constant changes in the FMCSA regulations are bound to be part of the pandemic situation. We promise to keep our customers updated.” he added.

For any assistance with COVID-19 updates for fleets you could visit us at MatrackInc

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