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Hours-of-Service Regulations for Truck Drivers Suspended Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

For the first time in history, federal hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, which govern how many hours truck drivers can drive in a certain period of time, have been suspended on a national level for truck drivers working “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks,” according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While HOS rules have been lifted before in certain areas—including entire states—in the wake of various disasters, this is the first time since HOS regulations were enacted in the 1930s that they have been suspended nationwide.

While the effect of this suspension remains to be seen, it is strongly encouraged that motorists use extra caution when sharing the road with large semi-trucks, big-rigs, and tractor-trailers. Tired and fatigued truck drivers are one of the leading causes of truck accidents and, while the temporary HOS suspension is intended to help bring supplies to areas experiencing supply shortages due to novel coronavirus outbreaks, it could potentially lead to a higher risk of serious accidents.

What Are Hours-of-Service Rules?

HOS rules are safety regulations enacted over 80 years ago that are meant to increase traffic safety by limiting the number of hours truck drivers may operate their vehicles. Just like any other motorist, a tired truck driver is less likely to be able to react to changing road conditions quickly and more likely to be distracted, fall asleep at the wheel, or turn to stimulants in order to stay awake. A tired truck driver, therefore, is at a higher risk of causing an accident.

Under normal FMCSA rules, hours-of-service regulations for truck drivers transporting goods include the following:

  • Truck drivers may not drive more than 11 consecutive hours in a 14-hour day
  • Truck drivers cannot drive beyond 14 consecutive hours after coming on duty
  • Drivers must take 10 consecutive hours off duty after driving 11 consecutive hours or after the 14-consecutive-hour work day
  • A longer time off duty (more than 10 consecutive hours) does not mean a truck driver can drive more than 11 consecutive hours in a 14-hour period
  • Truck drivers must take sleeper berth breaks every 8 hours or less for a period of at least 30 minutes
  • After 7/8 days on duty, truck drivers may not drive more than 60/70 hours; a 7/8-day period begins after at least 34 consecutive hours off duty

Why Have Hours-of-Service Rules for Truck Drivers Been Suspended?

According to Business Insider, the suspension is in response to emergency needs and nationwide supply shortages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As consumers stock up on food, health care supplies, and other goods, grocery stores, medical/personal care equipment suppliers, and other outlets have felt the strain. This has resulted in major shortages on items like facemasks, hand sanitizers, and toilet paper. The temporary suspension of HOS regulations is, at least in part, due to the increased demand for these and other items.

Additionally, certain items and personnel are in high demand due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. These include items like COVID-19 testing and treatment supplies, individuals needed to assist with quarantine/isolation procedures, and emergency health care workers.

According to the FMCSA, the hours-of-service rules suspension applies to trucks transporting the following goods:

  • Equipment and supplies necessary for the testing and treatment of COVID-19
  • Items needed for community safety and virus prevention, such as alcohol-based sanitizers, soaps, disinfectants, facemasks, gloves, etc.
  • Food, water, and grocery items for stores in need of emergency re-stocking

Furthermore, the temporary suspension also applies to vehicles transporting the following persons:

  • Those needed to assist with managing quarantine/isolation and housing facilities as they relate to COVID-19
  • Anyone needed to provide medical treatment/services, including emergency health services
  • Those named by federal, state, or local authorities as being essential in assisting with various medical and quarantine concerns

Which Areas Are Seeing the Highest Increase in Trucking Traffic?

Somewhat unsurprisingly, those areas of the U.S. currently experiencing the largest outbreaks of the novel coronavirus are also seeing an increase in trucking volume as suppliers scramble to bring resources to hard-hit communities. Washington State, particularly Seattle, as well as Los Angeles and New York, have seen increases in inbound volumes by about 12 to 15 times, according to Business Insider. However, truck drivers from coast to coast are feeling the effects of COVID-19, with massive amounts of trucks dispatched to various warehouses throughout the nation.

How to Stay Safe

As always, it’s important that you exercise a great deal of caution while sharing the road with large trucks. While it is far too early to determine if the temporary suspension of HOS rules has led to an increase in accidents, common sense tells us that the more fatigued truck drivers there are on the road, the more frequently accidents are likely to occur.

To ensure your safety and the safety of others, always follow these best practices:

  • Always drive a safe distance from large semi-trucks, 18-wheelers, buses, and other commercial vehicles.
  • Be alert and prepared for changing road conditions.
  • Never follow too closely behind trucks and never pass where it is unsafe to do so.
  • If you see a truck driver that seems to be exhibiting signs of exhaustion—such as swerving suddenly, drifting across lanes, or veering over double-yellow lines—keep a large, safe distance between yourself and the truck and, if necessary, contact local authorities.

If you are involved in a truck accident in California—including San JoseFresnoRiverside, or Beverly Hills–reach out to the BD&J team for help with your case. Our truck accident attorneys are prepared to assist you in seeking the fair recovery you are owed.

Contact us to request a free initial consultation.