The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has again extended its COVID-19 emergency declaration, this time through February 28, 2022. Like prior versions, the extended declaration provides certain regulatory relief for carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to the pandemic emergency relief efforts. However, in this version, the agency explicitly recognizes the impact the pandemic is having on the supply chain.
FMCSA is continuing the exemption and associated regulatory relief in accordance with 49 CFR § 390.25, because the presidentially declared emergency remains in place and because, although the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline in the U.S. following widespread introduction of vaccinations, persistent issues arising out of COVID-19 continue to affect the U.S. including impacts on supply chains and the need to ensure capacity to respond to variants and potential rises in infections. Therefore, a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains.
As in prior versions, "direct assistance" means transportation and other relief services incident to the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies related to COVID-19. It is limited to the following categories of transportation services: (1) livestock and livestock feed; (2) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19; (3) vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19; (4) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants; (5) food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores; (6) gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and ethyl alcohol; and (7) supplies to assist individuals impacted by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., building materials for individuals displaced or otherwise impacted as a result of the emergency). Direct assistance does not include non-emergency transportation of qualifying commodities or routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration. To be eligible for the exemption, the transportation must be both (i) of qualifying commodities and (ii) incident to the immediate restoration of those essential supplies.
Carriers and drivers who qualify under this declaration are exempted from Parts 390 through 399 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) while providing direct assistance to the emergency relief efforts. Notably, these Parts include driver qualification, hours of service, and vehicle maintenance requirements. The exemption does not relieve carriers and drivers of having to comply with drug/alcohol testing, CDL requirements, or having to comply with state laws such as speed limits and traffic restrictions.
"Direct assistance" terminates when the driver or vehicle is used to transport cargo that is not in support of the emergency relief efforts or when the motor carrier dispatches the driver to begin non-emergency operations. Upon termination, the operations are once again subject to all applicable safety regulations, except that the driver(s) may return empty to their normal work reporting location while still under the exemption, and must then obtain a 10-hour break if the driver has exceed his/her 14-hour clock.
A new requirement under the prior version of this declaration and continued in this one is that carriers who utilize the exemption must file monthly reports with the agency. Specifically:
Motor carriers that voluntarily operate under the terms of this extension of the modified Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 are to report within 5 days after the end of each month their reliance on the Declaration. To report, motor carriers will access their portal account at https://portal.fmcsa.dot.gov/login, log-in with their FMCSA portal credentials, and access the Emergency Declaration Reporting under the Available FMCSA Systems section of the page.