COVID-19: Suspension of HoS Regulations Increases the Risk of Truck Crashes
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to our everyday life. The shortage of goods and supplies is one of them. As Americans give in to the “panic buying” and feel the need to stock up on groceries and goods and hospitals require a steady flow of medical supplies to battle the coronavirus outbreak, there has been a surge in demand for truck freight across the country.
At the same time, the U.S. continues to grapple with the shortage of truck drivers while the existing truckers are bound by hours-of-service (HoS) regulations. However, to ensure that shipments of supplies and goods are not delayed during these unprecedented times, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) temporarily suspended certain rules, including the HoS regulations.
FMCSA Temporarily Suspends HoS Regulations for Truck Drivers
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a spike in demand for goods and medical supplies, including personal protective equipment and medications. The temporary suspension of some trucking rules by the FMCSA is said to provide “regulatory relief” for many types of truck shipments.
While some of the suspended rules only apply to trucks carrying critical supplies, others apply to all types of truck shipments. HoS regulations, which used to prevent truckers from operating trucks for an unlimited number of hours, were one of the rules that the FMCSA temporarily suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the suspension, truck drivers were allowed to drive for no more than 11 hours in a 14-hour workday. Also, HoS regulations required truckers to take mandatory breaks every 8 hours in order to prevent driver fatigue and minimize the risk of drowsiness-related truck accidents.
Who Can Ignore the Hours-of-Service Rules During the COVID-19 Pandemic?
In an unprecedented move, the FMCSA suspended the HoS rules to shipments of goods the agency considers “necessary” during the COVID-19 pandemic. These “necessary” shipments include:
- Medical supplies and equipment for testing, diagnosing, and treatment of the coronavirus disease;
- Critical supplies and equipment during the pandemic, including face masks, gloves, soap, disinfectants, hand sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment and items for sanitation and prevention of coronavirus;
- Food for emergency restocking of grocery stores;
- Supplies and persons necessary for quarantine and temporary housing facilities for COVID-19;
- Persons to provide medical and emergency services; and
- Persons designated by authorities for transport for quarantine, medical, or isolation purposes.
However, once the shipment is completed, the hours of service rules go back into effect. In addition, truckers who transport “necessary” goods or critical equipment during the pandemic must take a mandatory 10-hour rest break before resuming to drive.
The Risk of Truck Crashes During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The move to temporarily suspend the HoS rules may encourage trucking companies to set unrealistic deadlines for their truck drivers in an attempt to increase their revenue. Unrealistic deadlines and more hours on the road without adequate breaks may increase the number of truck crashes due to drowsiness and the risk of falling asleep behind the wheel.
After the suspension of HoS regulations during the pandemic, drivers are more likely to ignore signs of drowsiness and may be tempted to drive for more hours without taking breaks to complete the delivery faster. Drowsiness can lead to regular car accidents, but when a truck driver is drowsy and fatigued, the consequences can be catastrophic.