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Trucking Regulations, Proposed Rollbacks, and COVID-19

In the 80-plus years since the federal government began to regulate transportation, the trucking industry has continually pushed the U.S. Department of Transportation to roll back the regulations. Now, one unintended consequence of COVID-19, is that these truckers may finally get their wish, if only on a temporary basis.

Currently, long-haul truckers carrying property are limited to 11 hours of drive time within 14 hours of on-duty time. Hauls that last 8 hours require a 30-minute break in that time period. Prior to their next destination, drivers are required to take ten consecutive off-duty hours. A driver who violates the time limit rules can find himself or herself declared “out of service” for a day or more. Thus, infractions can be costly for a driver who is paid by the mile.

Pervasive Problems Persist

Last year, in the summer of 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation began efforts to relax these time restrictions. Highway safety advocates warned against these rollbacks. First, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration revealed that large truck accidents, those weighing as much as 80,000 pounds, are up by 10 percent from the previous year. What’s worse, 13% of truckers involved in crashes resulting in fatalities or injuries were fatigued. In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board considers fatigue to be a “pervasive problem” and added these types of accidents to its “Most Wanted List” of safety improvements for 2019 and 2020.

COVID-19 paralyzes the county, directly affecting the trucking industry

As COVID-19 has paralyzed the country, with businesses shutting down and residents sheltering in place across the nation, the trucking industry has moved into the national spotlight. It is estimated that grocery stores would be empty within two or three days if truck drivers stopped working.

In March of 2020, the U.S. Department of Transportation responded to the crisis by suspending some of the time regulations. For the moment, the “hours of service” regulations no longer apply to drivers who are transporting full loads of emergency supplies related to Covid-19. These supplies include medical equipment such as ventilators, masks and gloves, groceries, fuel, and equipment for building temporary housing or quarantine spaces. However, drivers still have to take a minimum 10-hour break after they have dropped off their emergency loads, and they must stop driving if they feel drowsy at any point.

In the midst of this, the nearly two million long-haul drivers face rather unique hurdles in their struggle to minimize their risk of exposure to the virus. Different trucking companies are handling the crisis in different ways, and their drivers are facing unprecedented levels of uncertainty and the unenviable prospect of being stranded hundreds of miles from home if they become ill.

If you are a truck driver and you have questions about your rights, or if you are an employer with questions about your obligations, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Cohn Lifland Pearlman Herrmann & Knopf. In the 80-plus years since the federal government began to regulate transportation, the trucking industry has continually pushed the U.S. Department of Transportation to roll back the regulations. Now, one unintended consequence of COVID-19, is that these truckers may finally get their wish, if only on a temporary basis.

Currently, long-haul truckers carrying property are limited to 11 hours of drive time within 14 hours of on-duty time. Hauls that last 8 hours require a 30-minute break in that time period. Prior to their next destination, drivers are required to take ten consecutive off-duty hours. A driver who violates the time limit rules can find himself or herself declared “out of service” for a day or more. Thus, infractions can be costly for a driver who is paid by the mile.