The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking to modify the scope of regulatory relief automatically granted in declared emergencies.
Existing federal regulations grant an automatic 30-day exemption from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance to emergency relief efforts. Relief efforts go into effect whenever the president, a state governor, or FMCSA declares an emergency. FMCSA is proposing to modify the relief automatically granted and the length of time those exemptions are available.
Motor carriers and drivers need relief from hours of service (HOS) regulations when responding to emergencies, FMCSA says. Under the NPRM, that HOS relief would continue to be granted automatically.
The HOS rules are found in part 395 of the FMCSA section of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). But other sections of 49 CFR parts 390-399, FMCSA notes, are not truly related to emergency relief efforts. Allowing an automatic exemption to these other regulations could jeopardize the safe operating conditions those regulations are intended to support, according to FMCSA. The agency does admit, though, that it has no evidence that past or existing emergency exemptions have in fact negatively impacted road safety.
For example, basic driver qualifications under part 391, vehicle inspection requirements and the prohibition on operating while ill or fatigued under part 392, and the vehicle parts and accessories deemed necessary for safe operation under part 393, often have no direct bearing on a motor carrier’s ability to provide emergency relief, FMCSA argues. Under the proposal, FMCSA would maintain the authority to tailor the exemptions to the emergency, adding relief from these other regulations where necessary. Only the exemption from HOS regulations would be automatic.
Under today’s rules, all emergencies declared by the president, a governor, or FMCSA trigger regulatory relief for 30 days. FMCSA proposes to continue the 30-day exemption period for declarations by the president, as emergencies requiring federal assistance are generally broader in scope.
For declarations by a governor or by FMCSA itself, the NPRM would limit automatic relief to 5 days. Any regulatory relief could be extended upon request to the agency. FMCSA may add a motor carrier reporting requirement, such as it implemented during the COVID-19 waivers, to monitor the use of an emergency exemption.
Regulatory relief for local emergency declarations is already limited to 5 days, with a specific 24-hour emergency exemption for tow trucks. The time period for regulatory relief under these emergency declarations would not change with the NPRM.
Comments on this NPRM are due by Feb. 6, 2023.
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