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FMCSA finally ends HOS exemption caused by COVID


The FMCSA has pulled the plug on the hours of service exemption.

With the White House opting to extend the U.S.' public health emergency status another 90 days due to slight growth in COVID-19 infections, some anticipated that the hours of service (HOS) exemption would be extended as well. But the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided otherwise, saying circumstances no longer make it necessary. 

For the first time since March 2020, the national HOS rule is back in effect. As motor carriers and truckers are well aware, HOS is a regulation that places a cap on how long truckers are allowed to drive consecutively without rest. But ever since the coronavirus was deemed a world health crisis, HOS has been sidelined in order to give transportation teams additional flexibility needed to deliver supplies, foodstuffs, fuel and other materials in a timely manner. The waiver expires after 90 days, or is reinstituted if the FMCSA deems it appropriate to do so. As noted by FreightWaves, the FMCSA has renewed the waiver at least 10 times in the past two-and-a-half years, the most recent instance coming in September.

Yet despite COVID still being labeled a public health emergency by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House, the FMCSA says it's time for the HOS rule to resume.

Robin Hutcheson, who serves as administrator for the FMCSA, told FreightWaves that this was a decision that wasn't entered into lightly and was guided by science and the degree to which motor carriers were leveraging the waiver.

"We evaluated the data coming back on who was using it, as well as the evaluation of the comments we received [on the last extension]," Hutcheson said. "We also looked at where we are with COVID, and the guidance that has been coming out on that. All was behind the decision to let it expire."

Industry largely supports ending the waiver
Given the strains that COVID-19 placed on motor carriers from a standpoint of added demand, paired with the truck driver shortage that the pandemic exacerbated, most entities in the trucking industry took advantage of the waiver at least at some point during the past two-plus years. Indeed, in a survey conducted by Overdrive from earlier this year, 30% of respondents said they used it on almost every load and 22% indicated they relied on it occasionally.

But with the lethality and transmissibility of the virus curbed substantially, several truck driving interest groups support reimposing the HOS regulation, including the American Trucking Associations and the Truck Safety Coalition. These respective organizations made their opinions known in September, when the FMCSA renewed the waiver for what turned out to be the last time.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has also chimed in on the issue. It's pointed out that since commercial truck crashes were few and far between when the waiver was in place, FMCSA ought to relax some of the restrictions of the HOS when it's reimposed, as OverDrive reported at the time.

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