The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has suspended hours of service regulations for drivers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, this means that a significant number of commercial motor vehicle drivers are operating beyond established safety standards. This has the potential to increase the number of large truck accidents caused by drowsy and distracted driving. 

Emergency Reaction to an Emergency Situation

As coronavirus spreads across the United States, it created significant disruptions in the supply chain. It also created a shortage of available truck drivers capable of transporting and delivering the critical medical supplies, personal protective gear, lifesaving equipment, and food communities depend upon. 

To help alleviate shortages and problems with the distribution of critical goods, the FMCSA opted to temporarily suspend hours of service regulations that limited the amount of time drivers could operate a commercial motor vehicle each week. Under current regulations, drivers are limited to 11 hours within any 14 hour time period.

This regulation is temporarily waived for drivers carrying items on the official list of critical supplies. However, provisions within this temporary change allow commercial drivers to request that their employer grant them 10 consecutive hours off duty whenever they feel they are in need of immediate rest. At present, it is unclear how many drivers have utilized this option to protect their health and the safety of other motorists. 

Not All Drivers are Exempt

The temporary suspension of hours of service regulations does not apply to all commercial motor vehicle drivers. It only applies to those carrying full loads of critical goods. This means that it does extend to drivers who have partial loads with a mixed variety of goods that are, and are not included on the official list. 

Suspension of Safety Regulations Endangers Motorists and Pedestrians

The hazards created by drowsy commercial motor vehicle drivers are well documented. Indeed, the significant number of drowsy driving accidents caused by commercial drivers are the reason why FMCSA chose to limit the amount of time drivers can spend behind the wheel without taking rest breaks and time-off. 

Thus, while these drivers will have the ability to deliver the goods hospitals and first responders need to address the coronavirus pandemic, they may cause critical accidents en route. And, while the FMCSA says that these drivers are exempt from the regulation, they are still liable for any accidents, personal injuries, property damage, or wrongful deaths they cause while operating their commercial truck.