Like many other industries, the trucking industry has seen drastic changes as the coronavirus pandemic continues to sweep the nation. While some companies have seen business slow or even a near stop due to COVID-19, the trucking industry has seen a dramatic increase in demand due to the pandemic.
In March, the Trump administration responded to this increase by easing certain regulations for commercial truckers who are directly contributing to coronavirus relief. The regulations in question center around Hours of Service laws (HOS laws).
What Are Hours of Service Laws?
HOS laws limit how many hours a trucker is allowed to be on duty. Under normal circumstances, the HOS laws limit commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time within a 14-hour workday. This workday includes 10 hours of off-duty time for those transporting property or eight hours for those transporting passengers.
HOS laws were implemented back in the early 1900s to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses. By mandating how many hours a commercial truck driver is allowed to work, the HOS laws prevent overworked, tired, or otherwise distracted drivers from getting behind the wheel of a truck or bus.
The HOS laws specifically target sleep and amount of time on the road because of the correlation between drowsiness and roadway accidents. If a person is in charge of operating a large vehicle on roads with speed limits that may exceed 50 miles per hour, they must be fully awake to react to changes on the road.
These regulations also prevent trucking companies and commercial employers from taking advantage of those eager to work. Some employers may set a timeline that requires a driver to operate their vehicle against the law, this may cause a worker to go over the speed limit or take fewer breaks to reach their destinations. The purpose of HOS laws is to prevent accidents by requiring a driver to record their hours on and off.
What Regulations Have Been Lifted?
Almost 70% of the goods consumed across the country are moved by truck. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, panic buying has led to an increase in shipments across the country. Items like hand sanitizer, flu medication, toilet paper, and canned foods have seen large increases in demand, meaning that truckers have had to increase their work to deliver the supply.
It’s typical for a state to lift these regulations in times of crisis or disaster. However, it has been less common for a federal entity to suspend the regulations on a national level. This is the first time this has happened since the rule was developed in 1938.
The new regulations state that a trucker must take a minimum of 10 hours of rest after transporting property, or eight hours after moving passengers. Some argue that this waiver is a critical part of the response to the coronavirus outbreak. By removing the barriers of HOS laws, drivers can spend more of their time reaching their destinations and delivering food, fuel, and medicine as stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Others, however, are worried that the removal of these safeguards will create unsafe driving conditions for not only the drivers operating the commercial trucks but for others who share the road.
“Even though the traffic on major roadways across the country is down, there are still people who depend on highways, interstates, and other local roads to get to their jobs,” says Attorney Charles Boyk of the Charles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC. “If overworked truck drivers are allowed out onto the road, there may be an increased risk of getting into an accident.”
Who is Exempt?
Only commercial truckers with certain loads are exempt from HOS regulations. Some of these types of truckloads include:
- Medical supplies and equipment that is used for testing, diagnosis, or treatment of COVID-19
- Equipment or supplies needed for community safety, sanitation, or prevention of community transmission (this may include masks, gloves, soap, hand sanitizer, and disinfectants)
- Food, paper products, or other groceries needed for emergency restocking of distribution centers
- Raw materials such as paper, plastic, or alcohol that are required for the manufacturing of essential items
- Liquified gasses used in refrigeration or cooling systems
- Equipment or supplies needed to establish or manage temporary housing or quarantine spaces
- Persons designated by federal, state, or local authorities as being essential to medical, isolation, or quarantine processes
Truck drivers with mixed loads or a small number of emergency relief supplies may not qualify for the suspended laws because they are not using enough of their trucking capacity to transport required materials.
Where We Stand Now
Demand for truck drivers is at an all-time high as stores try to meet the demand for some of the staples of normal life. Toilet paper, flour, and medical products are amongst some of the most coveted products in a landscape dominated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Some truck drivers are happy to be in an industry that has not been impacted by the unemployment brought upon by the spread of COVID-19. Others are worried they will be at increased risk of infection as they travel across the country, stopping in gas stations and rest stops in various states. As HOS laws are relaxed at the federal level, both truck operators and other drivers are anxious to see how the decision will affect the safety of those on the road.
It appears that the relaxation of regulations will allow more supply to be moved to the states and areas that require it the most, but more time is needed before official data becomes available.