FMCSA extends waivers on HOS, drug testing in face of national pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in recent weeks has granted waivers and extended exemptions for pre-employment drug testing and hours-of-service (HOS) regulations because of the national COVID-19 pandemic.

FMCSA granted a waiver for pre-employment drug testing requirements for commercial truck drivers. The waiver has a June 5 to Sept. 30, 2020 effective period.

During that period, employers are not required to retest drivers who participated in a controlled substance abuse testing program with 90 days of their hire date.

The agency said the waiver will help the industry deal with a large influx of drivers expected to return to work after stay-at-home orders across the nation were lifted.

HOS Exemptions

FMCSA also extended its emergency exemption for HOS to July 14 with the exclusion of grocery restocking, fuel, and precursor raw materials.

The HOS national exemption was extended March 13 and May 13 and was scheduled to expire June 14 before the latest extension.

“FMCSA is continuing the exemption because the presidentially declared emergency remains in place, and because a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains,” the agency stated in the latest extension notice.

“This extension addresses national emergency conditions that create a need for immediate transportation of essential supplies and provides necessary relief from federal regulations for motor carriers and drivers.”

The extension is limited to three categories of freight moved in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19:

  • Livestock and livestock feed
  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment 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.

It does not apply to other categories that had been added since the initial March 13 order, including:

  • Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores
  • Fuel
  • Immediate precursor raw materials, such as paper, plastic, or alcohol, that are required for the manufacture of medical equipment and other supplies included in the exemption
  • Liquefied gases to be used in refrigeration or cooling systems
  • Equipment supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine and isolation facilities related to COVID-19
  • Persons designated by federal, state, or local authorities for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes
  • Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response

“FMCSA has concluded that there is no longer a need for emergency relief with respect to the other categories of supplies, equipment, and persons” covered in the May 13 extension, the agency explained.

FMCSA emphasized that the HOS national exemption does not apply to routine commercial deliveries, only emergency-related situations.

FMCSA updates HOS rules

In May, the agency published a final rule updating HOS rules to reflect feedback from thousands of drivers and trucking companies.

Based on the detailed public comments and input, FMCSA’s final rule on hours of service offers four key revisions to the existing HOS rules:

  1. The agency will increase safety and flexibility for the 30-minute break rule by requiring a break after 8 hours of consecutive driving and allowing the break to be satisfied by a driver using on-duty, not driving status, rather than off-duty status.
  2. The agency will modify the sleeper-berth exception to allow drivers to split their required 10 hours off duty into two periods: an 8/2 split, or a 7/3 split—with neither period counting against the driver’s 14‑hour driving window.
  3. The agency will modify the adverse driving conditions exception by extending by two hours the maximum window during which driving is permitted.
  4. The agency will change the short-haul exception available to certain commercial drivers by lengthening the drivers’ maximum on‑duty period from 12 to 14 hours and extending the distance limit within which the driver may operate from 100 air miles to 150 air miles.

The new HOS rule will have an implementation date of Sept. 29, 2020.