Regulations are one of the largest concerns faced by the trucking industry today. Industry regulations and guidelines have had to be altered to bolster the supply chain, especially amid the current times. Below is a breakdown of various protocols that have been altered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and some permanent amendments that have been put into place to move the industry forward.
Hours of Service
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) eased its regulations on driver hours of service restrictions. The amendment to the regulation does not increase operator hours, but instead alters the counting of hours of service for drivers transporting essential goods. This change allows one off-duty break for 30 minutes to 3 hours, and the driver can pause their 14-hour driving clock as long as he or she takes their allotted 10 consecutive hour off-duty period following their shift.
The initial ruling relieved some restrictions until mid-May and the final extension through June 14th will keep those regulations eased for a little longer.
In mid-May, FMCSA also revealed that there will be permanent adjustments to the Hours of Service guidelines. The main alteration to current guidelines is that drivers now have the option to split their 10-hour break into 7 and 3 hour increments as well as the existing 8 and 2 hours. The shorter time allotment will not count toward the driver’s active “on-duty” clock. The new guidelines also reform the 30-minute break requirement so drivers can use that break time in an on-duty, non-driving status rather than just their first 8 hours on-duty.
These new regulations will go into effect in September, which is 120 days after publication by the Federal Register. The FMCSA estimates that the modernized HOS rules will provide over $250 million in cost savings to the American economy.
The FMCSA has been deliberating over the past couple years regarding their protocol on drivers who have experienced at least one seizure. In the current ruling, potential drivers with any history of epilepsy and/or seizures are immediately disqualified from obtaining a commercial license. For some time, this regulation was seen as a career-killer for someone with a history of epilepsy even if they had been seizure-free and successful with their medication.
Recently, the FMCSA has made amendments to the current guidelines to give the opportunity to drivers with a history of seizures to get back on the road. New regulations allow these drivers the option to apply for exemption if they can provide ample medical evidence proving they would not be high-risk. Unfortunately, these waivers can be extremely difficult to obtain.
The FMCSA is currently entertaining the idea of eliminating the need for exemption, similar to their ruling on drivers with diabetes and are consulting outside medical research throughout this year before making any further decisions.
Alcohol Clearinghouse & Drug Testing
Earlier this year, the FMCSA Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse went into effect. This is a database that keeps track of CDLs (commercial driver’s license holders) who have either tested positive for prohibited drug and alcohol use or refused a required drug test. The Clearinghouse rules require that employers must consult the database before giving drivers clearance to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) and continually check the database for all of their employed drivers on an annual basis.
The FMCSA enacted the following guidance that will remain in effect through the month of June in regard to various drug testing procedures.
For pre-employment drug testing, anyone looking to receive clearance to perform DOT safety-sensitive functions cannot be granted access without a passing test. The only exception to this is if the prospective employee fulfills one of the following requirements:
- Participated in a controlled substances testing program and meets the regulatory requirements within the previous 30 days
- Has been tested for controlled substances within the past six months of application date
- Participated in a random testing program for controlled substances for the previous 12 months from the application date and with confirmation from the employer that none of the driver’s previous employers have a recorded violation of this part or the controlled substances rule of another DOT agency in the previous six months
In the case of random drug testing, carriers are normally required to space out the testing dates throughout the year (DOT recommends testing at least quarterly). If carriers are unable to perform their testing at the scheduled rate they need to meet the following criteria:
- Achieve a 50% testing rate for drug testing
- Achieve a 10% testing rate for alcohol
- Make up all scheduled tests by the end of the calendar year
- Document in writing reasons as to why the tests could not be administered on the original date
After any traffic accident, carriers are still required to test each driver for alcohol and controlled substances as soon as possible. However, if it is not possible to administer the tests within 8 hours post-accident, the carrier is given an additional 24 hour period to conduct the test. The carrier will also be required to provide written documentation citing specific reasons as to why the test could not be conducted in the first 8 hours.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) will continue to uphold their current issuance standards for TWIC card (Transportation Worker Identification Credentials) regulations. Truck drivers and other transportation workers will continue to undergo a TSA conducted security assessment to obtain credentials for unescorted access to facilities.
There will also be an exemption period for existing driver TWIC Cards as a result of COVID-19. TWIC cards expire 5 years post-issuance, and TSA predicts that of the over 2 million TWIC cards in circulation, nearly 10% will be set to expire in the next six months. The temporary expiration delay of these TWIC cards will limit COVID-19 exposure, while also upholding the number of drivers available when they are needed the most.
This temporary exemption will push into the summer, lasting until July 31st.
Looking Ahead & Navigating Changes
To help out drivers, some companies have stepped up to provide assistance in identifying available parking spots or setting up medical help if a driver feels ill. These are small things that are often not taken into consideration and are now being taken more seriously.
As the situation surrounding COVID-19 begins to look more positive, it’s believed that these regulations should go back to their normal standards sometime down the road. This unprecedented time has shown us that although there are many constants in the industry, regulations are not one of them. As we’ve seen in the past, most notably with the ELD Mandate, regulations are ever-changing entities in the logistics industry and will be altered and changed to best fit the state of the market.