FMCSA’s Emergency Declaration revised to include vaccine distribution

The Declaration is extended through February 28, 2021

Posted December 2, 2020

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expanded and extended its Emergency Declaration for those motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to COVID-19 pandemic relief efforts. The previous exemption was due to expire on December 31, 2020.

The modified emergency exemption:

  • Is valid through February 28, 2021;
  • Continues to provide regulatory relief for those providing direct assistance to the health emergency;
  • Specifies the categories of supplies, equipment, and persons that qualify; and
  • Adds an exemption for the transportation of vaccines and related medical supplies and equipment.

Terms of the exemption

As stipulated in the previous versions of the Emergency Declaration, direct assistance means “transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) incident to the immediate restoration of essential services (such as medical care) or essential supplies related to COVID-19 during the emergency.”

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.

Direct assistance ends when a driver or commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo or provide services that are not in support of emergency relief efforts or when the motor carrier dispatches a driver or CMV to another location to begin operations in commerce.

The exemption is limited to transportation of:

  • Livestock and livestock feed;
  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19;
  • Vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention 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; and
  • Food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores. 

Qualifying motor carriers and drivers are exempt from 49 CFR Parts 390-399, except as noted below.

A driver who provides relief assistance may travel back to his or her terminal with an empty CMV under the exemption.

Unaffected rules

Drivers and motor carriers operating under this exemption must continue to comply with the commercial driver’s license, drug and alcohol testing, financial responsibility (insurance), hazardous materials, and size and weight requirements.

The FMCSA’s emergency declaration says drivers and carriers must also comply with:

  • All applicable state laws and regulations, including speed limits and other traffic restrictions;
  • 49 CFR §392.3, which prohibits the operation of a CMV while the driver is too ill or fatigued to drive safely; and
  • Prohibitions on texting while driving and using a handheld cell phone while driving.

The declaration also includes a need to provide fatigued drivers with 10 hours of rest upon completion of their relief efforts.

The declaration requires motor carriers who use the exemption to report any recordable crashes to the FMCSA office in the state where the carrier is based. The notification must be made by phone or in writing within 24 hours and include the date, time, location, driver, vehicle identification, and brief description of the crash.

This article was written by Kathy Close of J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

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