Will the national emergency declaration's COVID hours of service waiver extend again?

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Updated Mar 5, 2022

The “People’s Convoy” continues to roll toward the area of the nation’s capital, at upward of 100 trucks as of yesterday, with multiple hundreds more personal vehicles following as of Thursday, March 3, on a route to Ohio before a final trip into the D.C. area planned for Saturday this weekend.

The convoy, as we’ve noted here, has a stated aim of ending the national emergency footing on which the U.S. government has found itself the last two years as it relates to COVID. Those national-emergency declarations bring with them new discretionary funding opportunities for federal agencies to direct to states, the ability to impose restrictions in some instances, too -- though in the U.S. that’s primarily been seen at the local and state levels when comes to restrictions on travel and gatherings, particularly early on in the pandemic but continuing in some measures today. At the federal level, we’ve got the cross-border vaccination requirement for non-U.S. citizens coming in, and Canada has imposed that measure for border crossings on U.S. haulers, too, as is well-known.

[Related: Legislation introduced to exempt Canadian, Mexican drivers from border vax mandate]

Yet there’s more that can come along with an emergency declaration -- we see it routinely in the event of a hurricane or other weather-related disaster for relief haulers. Namely, regulatory flexibility. The supply-chain challenges that have continued to shift and in some cases intensify since the beginning of the pandemic prompted the FMCSA in 2020, in short order after the emergency was declared in March, to waive certain parts of the hours of service for haulers of a big list of commodities that were being moved in direct-assistance efforts.

Since that time, those commodities have included the emergency restocking of items as uncommon as emergency medical treatments or as common as basic groceries.

With the waiver’s extension with the national emergency earlier this week through the end of May, on today's edition of Overdrive Radio we talk with the Trucker Nation advocacy group’s regulatory affairs lead Andrea Marks about progress on her organization’s data-collection effort around independent carriers' use of the hours of service waiver. That collection effort is aimed at providing a base from which to study its connection to bedrock safety metrics.

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That is, what’s the safety record, what’s the crash record say about all manner of haulers who’ve effectively been "self-regulating" these last two years? Take a listen: 

[Related: NHTSA says truck-involved fatalities dipped significantly in 2020, despite overall deaths' rise]

The answer to that question, Marks and others wager, might well go a long way toward further enhancing hours of service flexibility, a subject we take up again in more detail in today’s podcast. (If you missed it, you can also listen back to this prior episode for more from Marks on the subject before her independent data-collection started.) Further, as the convoy continues and the U.S. government in more ways has been signaling a potential return to normalcy as the latest COVID wave subsides, what's the likelihood of a further extension beyond May of parts of the hours waiver? Take a listen to today's edition to hear Marks' view.

You can access Trucker Nation's data-collection effort around use of the COVID hours waiver via this link. In the podcast, Marks speaks to answers she received directly from FMCSA about issues she sees in terms of enforcement variability when it comes to the waiver's use. You can access those answers directly at this link. 

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