Safety Laws for Truckers Suspended During Pandemic

As the nation begins to lift some restrictions that were put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the trucking industry is as important as ever. With increased shipping needs for critical items like food, sanitization equipment, and medical supplies, new trucker requirements have been put in place to maintain stocked shelves.

In March, The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) eased some hours-of-service (HOS) trucking restrictions. This executive order and subsequent extensions mean that eligible commercial truckers may drive without following the existing break and time-off regulations.

While the new rules will help the country restock and rebuild its economy, these changes could be dangerous for motorists. With looser restrictions for required break time and additional stress, more truck accidents may occur. As such, travelers should keep an eye on tractor-trailers for signs of driver fatigue.

Eligible truckers now have more flexibility in their 14-hour workday. Some drivers can now classify “on-duty, not driving” periods as breaks to satisfy the existing “off-duty, not driving” break requirement. Furthermore, drivers have more options in how they take their 10-hour “off-duty” breaks.

The new provisions pertain to drivers who are transporting special or auxiliary deliveries containing:

  • COVID-19 medical equipment
  • Sanitation supplies
  • Food and paper products needed for emergency restocking
  • Liquefied gas for refrigeration or cooling systems
  • Other essential cargo, like fuel and manufacturing materials

These loosened restrictions do not apply to drivers delivering regularly-scheduled or non-essential deliveries. So while there are new allowances, not every truck on the road is entitled to them. As a result, the regulation update only affects a small number of drivers.

These changes to existing restrictions may be needed from a COVID-19 response and rebuild perspective. Thankfully, with fewer commuters and travelers on the road, these updates have less potential to endanger others.

Still, some are concerned about motorist safety.

“Removing hours-of-service requirements for drivers could have dire effects on motorist safety, particularly if these allowances exist well into the recovery phase,” said Attorney Ryan McKeen of the Connecticut Trial Firm, LLC. “Driving fatigue is already a leading cause of truck accidents, and removing existing rest protections could cause more accidents.”

To watch out for tired or distracted truck drivers, Attorney Ryan McKeen suggests motorists note blind spots in the truck’s mirrors and maintain a safe distance when changing lanes or following a truck. Being mindful of trucks and their potential danger can help prevent motorists from getting hurt.

In essence, this requirement freeze could place more tired drivers on the road. Moreover, the pandemic’s uncertain timeline further complicates the process, as citizens, suppliers, and officials may need to evaluate potential developments like a second wave.

So while this economic measure is meant to help doctors, stores, and consumers remain stocked on essential items, these new allowances override existing safety precautions meant to prevent fatigued driving. With new federal regulations governing breaks and shifts during COVID-19, this is uncharted territory for the court system.