Regulations are an integral part of the trucking industry. In times of crisis, such as conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic or natural disasters, regulatory authorities like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) often issue emergency declarations. Understanding how to deal with state and federal emergency declarations is a critical aspect of risk management for commercial trucking companies. Just as trucking insurance protects against liability and operational risks, heeding emergency declarations can help to ensure business continuity no matter what crises are faced.
Emergency Declarations 101
The purpose of emergency declarations is to allow goods and services to travel faster and more efficiently during difficult times. In a real sense, these declarations position trucking companies and their drivers as first responders in crises; by relaxing regulations, delivery of critical supplies and consumer goods can continue with less oversight.
For trucking, federal emergency declarations are issued by the FMCSA and by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Regulatory agencies on the state level may also issue similar declarations, such as after a natural disaster strikes a region. On the federal level, a recent emergency declaration known as the Expanded Modified Emergency Declaration No. 2020-002 was made in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic; Hours-of-Service (HOS) restrictions were exempted by the FMCSA to allow drivers to deliver medical supplies, food supplies, and equipment for use in combatting the spread of infection or to replenish stocks of needed consumer items. Existing regulations relaxed or exempted by Emergency Declarations include rules on combination vehicles, hours of service, parts and equipment, and other factors causally related to emergency transportation of goods.
Understanding Emergency Declarations
In a YouTube video published by the Transport Center, Tom Bray, a trucking industry expert on regulations notes that trucking companies have a duty to read emergency declarations carefully to determine whether they apply to current operations. These declarations are often complex and full of details. Companies must be clear that the declaration applies to their specific operations in order to avoid any subsequent regulatory issues.
Emergency Declarations Do Not Lift All Regulations
One of the concerns when an emergency declaration is made is that trucking companies misguidedly believe that all regulatory restrictions are lifted. This is not the case; in 2020-002, regulations remain in place for:
- Obtaining and maintaining commercial driver licenses.
- Drug and alcohol use in the workplace.
- Vehicle weight and size restrictions.
- Transportation of hazardous materials.
- Use of handheld computing devices like smartphones and tablets while driving.
- Requirements for trucking insurance coverage, such as tow truck insurance, semi truck, and cargo insurance.
Failure to comply with regulations can result in steep penalties and loss of licensure by trucking companies and their drivers. Even in an emergency declaration, company managers must ensure their drivers are adhering to the regulations not lifted or suspended in the declaration document.
Common sense is at play during a crisis as well; even with emergency declarations in place, companies and their drivers have a duty to operate vehicles safely. While some minor truck defects are allowed or relaxed rules about driver operation take effect, putting unsafe vehicles on the road during a crisis can result in significant liability exposures, not to mention claims against trucking insurance policies. Trucking companies can continue to perform essential delivery services by balancing common sense operational practices with the easing of restrictions under emergency declarations.
About Western Truck Insurance Services
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