As COVID-19 Crisis Deepens, Trump Administration Suspends Trucking Safety Regulations

For the first time in history, the United States government has announced the nationwide suspension of rules intended to prevent fatigue-related truck and 18-wheeler crashes.

According to an emergency declaration issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) last Friday night, the suspension of the Hours of Service regulations is necessary to ensure medical equipment and other supplies are able to reach communities across the United States that have been hard-hit by the ongoing outbreak of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

About COVID-19

The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. The potentially deadly virus has already sickened over 190,000 people around the world and killed more than 7,500.

As of March 17th, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention had confirmed 4,226 cases and 75 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States. Outbreaks have been reported in 49 states, including Texas and Louisiana, as well the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Unfortunately, because many of those infected with the novel coronavirus won’t exhibit symptoms, research suggests that between 5 and 10 cases are going undetected. To make matters worse, it’s now known that even asymptomatic carriers can transmit the virus to others.

Americans Urged to “Flatten the Curve”

A lack of adequate testing and various other factors have dangerously hindered the federal government’s response to COVID-19. To slow the virus’s rampage – i.e. “flatten the curve” – and hopefully prevent the nation’s healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed, the CDC is now recommending that Americans:

  • Avoid social gatherings of 10 or more people.
  • Work or school from home whenever possible.
  • Avoid eating or drinking in bars, restaurants, and food courts. Use delivery, drive-thru, or take-out instead.
  • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits.
  • Avoid visiting nursing homes, retirement communities, or long-term care facilities unless providing critical assistance.
  • Practice good hygiene: Wash hands, especially after touching any frequently used item or surface; avoid touching your face; sneeze or cough into a tissue or inside of the elbow; disinfect frequently used items or surfaces as much as possible.

An increasing number of cities and states are ordering all non-essential businesses to close, with only grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, and medical practices allowed to remain open.

Hours of Service Rules Suspended for at Least 30 Days

Enacted over 80 years ago, the federal Hours of Service regulations help prevent fatigue-related crashes by limiting the number of hours an interstate commercial driver can remain behind the wheel without taking a break. But with grocery stores around the country selling out of basic staples and hospitals running short on hand sanitizer, surgical masks, and other vital supplies, the Trump administration apparently believes keeping fatigued truckers off the road is an impediment to the nation’s public health response.

While the FMCSA commonly issues regulatory waivers during natural disasters, this is the first time in history that the agency has suspended the Hours of Service rules nationwide.  Last week’s emergency declaration applies to heavy trucks and 18-wheelers delivering “food for emergency restocking of stores,” as well as medical equipment, hand sanitizer, masks, and other items. The waiver will remain in effect for 30 days or until the outbreak finally ends, whichever occurs first.

The Trump administration’s decision to suspend the Hours of Service rules is understandable – and certainly seems warranted – in light of the coronavirus emergency. But the current White House has never been supportive of the rules, and in fact, was already reviewing a proposal to greatly weaken the Hours of Service regulations in a number of key areas.

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