Imagine federal safety regulations that fit your specific trucking operation and your specific equipment like a glove!

Impossible? Most likely. Safety depends in part on shared expectations. Highway users make driving decisions based on the anticipated behavior of others on the road. That anticipated behavior stems from the “rules of the road.,” For example, safety regulations say stop on red and adhere to the speed limit. Law enforcement relies on standard safety regulations, too. With over 500,000 trucking companies and 3.5 million truck drivers operating 15.5 million trucks in the U.S., individualized regulations would overwhelm enforcement and safety would suffer.

Still, the old saying holds true that “exceptions prove the rule.” In an industry as diverse as trucking, there are bound to be exceptions. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations offer a means to address those exceptions: an application for an exemption. An exemption can offer the opportunity to better tailor a safety regulation to a carrier’s specific needs or conditions.

However, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must determine that granting the requested exemption would likely result in a level of safety equivalent to or greater than the level achieved by the current regulation.

FMCSA derives its power to grant exemptions from Congress, specifically from 49 USC (United States Code) section 31315(b). FMCSA must publish applications for exemptions and any supporting safety analysis in the Federal Register and take public comments. FMCSA may establish “terms and conditions” for an exemption and can terminate it upon violation of those terms and conditions or evidence that an equivalent level of safety has not been achieved.

Here is how the exemption process works, and four lessons to consider, if you apply for one.

Lesson #1: Some comments are more important than others. FMCSA recently streamlined the exemption process for truck drivers with “monocular” vision. It now relies on the expert opinion of ophthalmologists, optometrists and certified medical examiners, rather than the public who may not know the individual driver.

Lesson #2: When requesting an exemption to federal safety regulations, support your safety analysis with the real-world experience of affected carriers and law enforcement.

Law enforcement personnel hold the most important opinions sought under Lesson #1 when making the determination if an “exception to the rule” is legitimate. In California, tomato tubs used by agricultural carriers did not meet the federal cargo securement regulations. Carriers, agricultural groups and the California Highway Patrol (CHP) worked together to craft an exemption acceptable to FMCSA. Critical to this success was the longtime experience of the CHP with tomato tub securement.

Lesson #3: Appeal to higher authority. Federal regulations say that a person performing the annual inspection of commercial motor vehicles or inspecting, maintaining and servicing commercial motor vehicle brake systems must have a combination of training or experience totaling at least one year. A pending exemption application from the American Trucking Associations would qualify these individuals if they complete a training program consistent with the “recommended practices” of ATA’s Technology and Maintenance Council, whose membership includes the very training providers relied on by current regulations.

Lesson #4: Demonstrate how other highway users will react to your proposed exemption. FMCSA granted an exemption allowing tank truck carriers to install a brake-activated pulsating lamp on the rear of the trailers. This is in addition to the steady-burning brake lamps required by law. Data showing that a major tank carrier reduced rear-end collisions by 33.7% after adding the pulsating brake light helped support this exemption.

Exemptions can help fit regulations to your specific needs – but only when safety is not compromised.