U.S. highway-safety regulators are suspending rules that limit daily driving hours for truck drivers moving emergency supplies such as medical equipment, hand sanitizer and food in response to the nationwide coronavirus outbreak.
The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the nationwide exemption late Friday, following President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over the pandemic.
The move “will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen said.
It comes as hospitals report shortages of medical masks and as retailers and manufacturers are straining under surging demand for everything from hand sanitizer to staples such as toilet paper and rice. As anxious consumers stockpile goods, grocers have turned to rationing, imposing purchase limits on disinfectant wipes, cleaning supplies and other high-demand products.
The move is the first time the FMCSA has issued nationwide-wide relief from hours-of-service regulations, although regional declarations have waived those rules in response to disasters such as hurricanes.
Federal regulations limit most commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time in a 14-hour workday, restrictions intended to reduce accidents caused by highway fatigue.
The national emergency declaration applies to carriers providing direct assistance to relief efforts tied to the coronavirus pandemic, such as moving medical supplies and equipment to test, diagnose and treat Covid-19. It also applies to those hauling goods to help prevent its spread, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectants.
Drivers transporting “food for emergency restocking of stores” are also covered by the declaration.
It also applies to motor carriers moving medical and emergency services providers, people needed to set up and manage temporary housing and quarantine facilities, and people being moved for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes, the agency said.
The declaration doesn’t apply to routine commercial deliveries or truckers hauling mixed loads that include essential supplies. Drivers that inform motor carriers they need immediate rest must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.