TransportationFinal Rule Unveiled by FMCSA Will Tighten Rules for Trucking Companies Providing Relief During Emergencies

01/21/2024by Thomas Fee

In a bid to enhance the efficiency and safety of emergency relief efforts, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently unveiled a Final Rule aimed at tightening regulations for trucking companies involved in providing crucial relief services during emergencies. This significant development comes as a response to the increasing need for streamlined operations in times of crises, such as natural disasters, pandemics, or other emergencies.

At Fee Smith & Sharp LLP, we understand the importance for all transportation companies to recognize the implications of this Final Rule for the trucking industry, emergency response, and public safety and can provide the guidance you need to protect your business.

The Background of FMCSA’s Final Rule Regarding Emergency Relief

Trucking companies play a pivotal role in disaster response and recovery efforts by swiftly and safely transporting essential supplies, equipment, and personnel to affected areas. As the regulatory body overseeing interstate trucking, FMCSA has recognized the importance of establishing clear guidelines to ensure the safe and efficient deployment of trucks and supplies during emergencies. FMCSA’s previous regulations had certain limitations that prompted the need for a comprehensive overhaul of emergency relief operations.

The Final Rule aims to address these shortcomings and establish a tighter framework for emergency relief operations outlined in Section 390 of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Specifically, it narrows the scope of safety regulations for motor carriers and drivers providing direct emergency assistance. In addition, it provides clarity on which emergency exemptions are necessary during an emergency.

This Final Rule acknowledges the need for flexibility regarding relief in emergency situations while concentrating on safety requirements. It recognizes the fact that temporary relief from some regulations may be essential during emergencies, but waiving every regulation is not necessary. It explains that while road safety was not negatively impacted by the emergency regulation relief, there should not be comprehensive emergency exemptions unless absolutely necessary.

Key Provisions of the Final Rule

There are several key provisions of the Final Rule. It is important for all parties involved in the trucking industry to have a thorough understanding of these provisions. Our team at Fee Smith & Sharp LLP can assist you in ensuring you are adhering to all of FMCSA’s rules and regulations, including the following major provisions of this recent Final Rule:

Changed Definition of “Emergency”

The recent Final Rule changes the definition of what constitutes an emergency, as defined in Section 390.5 of Title 49 of the CFR. Specifically, it clarifies that emergency regulatory relief does not generally apply to economic conditions caused by market forces. For example, shortages of raw materials or supplies, labor strikes, driver shortages, inflation, or fluctuations in freight shipments and brokerage rates do not constitute an emergency. Exceptions to this ruling can occur when these conditions cause an immediate threat to human life and result in the declaration of an emergency by an authorized party, such as the President of the United States or the governor of a specific state.

Change to Regulatory Relief Period

This Final Rule also changes Section 390.23 of CFR Title 49, specifying limitations to the 30-day exemption for all federal motor carrier regulations in parts 390 through 399 for motor carriers or drivers providing direct assistance during a declared emergency. This change limits the scope and duration of the automatic regulatory relief that takes effect upon an emergency declaration by a state’s governor. Now, the automatic regulatory relief period triggered by an emergency declaration issued by a state governor will end upon the sooner of the termination of the emergency declaration or 14 days.

Exemption From Some Limitations to Hours of Service Regulations

The recent Final Rule also exempts commercial motor vehicle drivers during a declared emergency from the hours of service regulations in Sections 395.3 and 395.5 only, as opposed to all sections 390 through 399. These limited sections apply to maximum driving times for property-carrying vehicles and passenger-carrying vehicles. Currently, drivers are limited on the number of hours they can consecutively drive and are directed on when they must take breaks.

Extension of the Emergency Exemption for the Reliable Home Heating Act

A state governor can declare an emergency under the Reliable Home Heating Act. Typically, when such an emergency is declared, the automatic regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operators and drivers lasts for 30 days. However, the recent Final Rule also allows for the initial automatic emergency exemption to be extended twice by a governor, for a total of 90 days, if they determine there is in fact an emergency due to a shortage of residential heating fuel.

No Extension for Local Emergencies

Automatic regulatory relief allows for an exception to the hours of service rules for local emergencies under Section 390.23. This relief is already limited to five days. The Final Rule establishes that no change to the length of the automatic relief is necessary and maintains the five-day limit to minimize the impact on the safety of drivers, operators, and everyone else on the roadways.

Simplification of Extension and Modification Requests

This Final Rule has also simplified the language in Section 390.25, which discusses FMCSA’s extension and modification of the automatic regulatory relief outlined in Section 390.23. Under the recent Final Rule, requests for extension or modification by interested parties must be made via email before the expiration of the relief period. Then, the FMCSA will determine if such changes to the relief are necessary and, if so, will establish a new time limit and any necessary terms and conditions for motor carriers or drivers relying on the extended or modified relief.

Protect Yourself with The Assistance of An Experienced Transportation Attorney

It is critical for transportation companies to stay updated on the latest local and national transportation regulations. At Fee Smith & Sharp LLP, our transportation lawyers are knowledgeable regarding all regulatory, technical, and legal issues impacting the operations of our transportation clients.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you stay protected in all areas of your operations, including accidents, freight claims, property loss, and other incidents.

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