FMCSA issues updated national emergency declaration for HOS-related coronavirus relief

By LM Staff · March 19, 2020

Following the March 13 national emergency declaration to provide hours-of-service regulatory relief to commercial vehicle drivers transporting emergency relief in response to the nationwide coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an expanded national emergency declaration yesterday.

“Under Secretary Chao’s leadership, FMCSA is providing additional regulatory relief to our nation’s commercial drivers to get critically important medical supplies, food, and household goods to Americans in need,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen in a statement. “The nation’s truck drivers are on the front lines of this effort and are critical to America’s supply chain. We will continue to support them and use our authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.”

This emergency declaration is represents the first one FMCSA has issued on a national level and comes on the heels of President Trump issuing a national emergency declaration in response to the coronavirus.

The expanded national emergency declaration is comprised of the following:

Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19;

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;

Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores;

Immediate precursor raw materials—such as paper, plastic or alcohol—that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items;


Equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine;

Persons designated by federal, state or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes; and

Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services

FMCSA officials said that the expanded declaration stipulates that direct assistance does not include routine commercial deliveries, including mixed loads with a nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of the emergency declaration. And it added that to ensure continue safety on the nation’s roadways, the emergency declaration stipulates that once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the drive must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.

This move by the FMCSA was soundly endorsed by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), specifically new guidance on which operations are covered by the declaration, clarifying that fuel haulers are in fact included, as well as new guidance on “mixed load” operations.

“We thank Administrator Mullen and the Trump Administration for continued support to our industry as we deliver food, water, medicine, medical supplies, fuel and other essentials throughout this public health crisis,” said American Trucking Associations Vice President of Safety Policy Dan Horvath in a statement. “The men and women of the trucking industry are heroes who remain on the front lines in this national effort.”

Ben Hartford, Robert W. Baird and Co. transportation analyst, wrote in a research note that this move by the FMCSA is likely, in part, a response to tightening supply conditions that have been experienced over the last few days.

“Several contacts with whom we have spoken in recent days have noted a strong uptick in spot truckload trends, attributable to 1) the surge in demand for consumer staples and destocking of inventory given preparation for extended shuttering of activities across the US in recent days, and 2) incremental reduction in supply,” commented Hartford. “In recent weeks, some small carriers have closed, citing sharply rising insurance premiums; while a couple contacts with whom we spoke believed driver availability was shrinking and could fall further given their own precautions taken during the broadening pandemic. Aggregate demand risk in 2Q20 and 2H20 is clearly growing, but we expect the supply chain disruptions related to this crisis are probably most directly beneficial, among surface transportation modes, to truckload fundamentals.”

Hartford drove home a few key points that need to be kept in mind, especially as they relate to the intersection of freight transportation and logistics with general daily activities, with the latter experience quick change and upheaval at an incredibly rapid rate.

“This is an unprecedented period with still-unknowable impacts, making attempts to forecast future aggregate demand impossible,” wrote Hartford. “But we’re confident about a couple of things: 1) we should remain focused on the crisis’ human element; and 2) greater challenges still lie ahead. To that end, the cascading closures of events nationwide and globally in recent days will be essential in arresting the virus’ outbreak. Meantime, the acuteness of the economic impact could exceed anything we’ve experienced in our lifetimes — including the 2008-09 financial crisis.”

March 19, 2020