There’s a lot of confusion out there about what the Covid-19 Emergency Relief Exemption covers and what it doesn’t. Well, the current version of the nationwide exemption is due for updating or canceling at the end of May. Before things reset, let’s take a look at where the rules apply now. First, what is an Emergency Declaration?

Purpose of an Emergency Declaration:
“To provide vital supplies and transportation services to a disaster area in the United States, emergency declarations may be issued by the President, Governors of States, or FMCSA. These declarations trigger the temporary suspension of certain Federal safety regulations, including Hours of Service, for motor carriers and drivers engaged in specific aspects of the emergency relief effort.” (from FMCSA webpage)

Limits of an Emergency Declaration:
1. It’s limited to 30 days, unless extended by the FMCSA.
2. Drivers and loads that qualify for the Emergency Declaration rules exemptions are clear to use those exemptions when traveling to their load destination, no matter what states they drive through.
3. The exemptions only apply to FMCSA rules about drive time limits. They don’t cover drugs/alcohol, overweight, hazmat, or registration rules.
4. Drivers have to be providing direct aid as spelled out by the Emergency Declaration. They can’t just be hauling a normal load to an area under an Emergency Declaration.
5. Drivers still have to use common sense. Even though they can run past their driving window, they should still never drive while fatigued or impaired.

With that covered, what is the current status of the Emergency Declaration for Covid-19? What are the rules in place until the end of May, 2022? (from FMCSA webpage)
1. Exemption from drive time rules.
2. Only applies to drivers/carriers offering “direct assistance.” Which 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 related to COVID-19 during the emergency.” AKA supplies to keep essential services running and other essential supplies.
3. Those “essential supplies” cover a wide range of things. We won’t list them all here. Check out the FMCSA site for that. But basically, it covers vaccines and medical supplies, groceries for emergency restocking, livestock and feed, and fuel. There’s one other main category: supplies to assist people who’ve been financially impacted by the pandemic. That one is particularly vague on purpose. The point is that a driver/carrier needs to prove that what they’re hauling is relief supplies and not a regular load that happens to be going to an area that needs emergency relief.
4. Mixed loads don’t qualify for the exemption. You can’t have half a load of vaccines and half a load of ice cream bars and call that an exempt load.
5. Carriers have to report to the FMCSA if they used the Covid-19 Emergency Relief Exemption. They have to do this monthly, within 5 days of the end of the month. Reporting is done through the FMCSA carrier portal.
6. A driver’s exemption status ends as soon as he drops off his emergency relief load. If he has run over his allowed hours, he has to immediately stop and do the 10-hour reset. The only exception to this is if he drops off the load and runs empty back to his terminal. Then his exemption status lasts until he arrives there.

That’s a lot of dense info, but we tried to break it down from what it says on the FMCSA site. If you’re hauling Covid-19 Emergency Relief supplies, bless you. Thank you so much for pushing beyond expectations to help Americans in need. Please be safe out there. Know your own limits and stay alert. And keep these rules in mind because the last thing you need is to get strapped with a ticket or inspection violation. If you have a ticket or inspection and need help to fight it, call us. You’re out there helping everyone and we’re here to help you.

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