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FMCSA extends COVID-19 emergency exemption and waivers

New restrictions apply as of September 1

Posted August 31, 2021

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has once again extended some emergency waivers and exemptions enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency’s Emergency Declaration as well as its licensing and medical-card waivers were due to expire on August 31, 2021. The continuing impact of COVID-19 on supply chains and state licensing agencies led the agency to extend the exemption and waivers yet again, until November 30, 2021.

Emergency declaration

The emergency exemption provides hours-of-service relief to qualifying motor carriers supporting pandemic relief efforts. The emergency exemption has been in place since March 2020, but the latest three-month extension brings some important new restrictions.

As before, the exemption applies to the transportation of a limited list of commodities, including:

  • Livestock and livestock feed;
  • Medical and sanitation supplies, vaccines, and related products and equipment for the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, and for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19; and
  • Food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores.

New to the list, as of September 1, 2021, are:

  • Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and ethyl alcohol; and
  • Supplies to assist individuals impacted by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g., building materials for individuals displaced or otherwise impacted as a result of the emergency).

While the FMCSA previously exempted eligible carriers from most of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, the latest exemption offers relief only from the hours-of-service limits in 49 CFR 395.3. This means eligible drivers are not required to have a minimum amount of rest and may drive after the normal 11-hour driving limit, 14-hour duty limit, and/or 60/70-hour weekly limit. They must be in compliance, however, with all other federal safety requirements related to driver qualification, vehicle inspections and maintenance, drug and alcohol testing, licensing, cargo securement, etc. They also must log their time as they normally would, whether using paper logs, electronic logs, or short-haul time records.

New reporting requirement

Also new to the exemption declaration is a requirement that carriers report their usage of the exemption to the FMCSA. Specifically, motor carriers that use the exemption must log in to their FMCSA Portal account within five days after the end of each month to report their use of the exemption. Carriers are to access the “Emergency Declaration Reporting” tool under the “Available FMCSA Systems” section on the Portal website.

Licensing waiver

Drivers having trouble updating their commercial licenses due to the pandemic have more time to renew their credentials.

Under the licensing waiver, states have the option to extend the validity of CDLs and CLPs that expired on or after March 1, 2020, until November 30, 2021.

The licensing waiver is not binding on the states, so drivers should verify that their state is honoring it.

Medical-card waiver

Under the revised medical-card waiver, a driver can qualify for an extension on an expiring medical certificate if:

  • His or her existing medical card expired on or after June 1, 2021;
  • The existing medical card was issued for at least 90 days;
  • The driver has not been diagnosed with a disqualifying medical condition since the previous medical exam; and
  • The driver carries a copy of his or her expired medical certificate and any required variance.

Reporting crashes

If a driver takes advantage of the licensing or medical-card waiver and is involved in a DOT-recordable crash, the motor carrier must notify the FMCSA by email within five days.

The latest exemption declaration and waivers went into effect at 12:00 A.M. (ET), September 1, 2021, and will remain in effect until 11:59 P.M. (ET), November 30, 2021, unless modified or revoked sooner.

This article was written by Daren Hansen of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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