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COVID-19 and Truck Accidents: The FMCSA Suspends Trucking Regulations

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The demand for certain medical supplies, especially disinfectants and personal protective equipment, has been booming during the coronavirus pandemic. Also, many Americans have been stocking up on food and supplies, emptying the shelves of some grocery stores.

In response to COVID-19 panic buying, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) decided to temporarily suspend hours-of-service (HoS) regulations and other federal trucking rules to facilitate the delivery of shipments during the pandemic.

However, the suspension of driving limits for truckers may result in an increased number of truck accidents in New Hampshire and across the country.

FMCSA Temporarily Suspends HoS Regulations

The FMCSA’s unprecedented announcement to temporarily suspend HoS regulations came on March 13. This was the first time that the agency suspended the rules on a national scale since it was developed back in 1938.

A few days later, the FMCSA expanded its “national emergency declaration” to provide regulatory relief to commercial truck drivers. Typically, all commercial vehicle drivers in the U.S. must comply with the agency’s hours-of-service regulations.

The HoS regulations are intended to prevent fatigued and drowsy driving, which is one of the leading causes of truck and auto accidents in the country. The following rules, which constitute the HoS regulations, were developed to ensure that commercial vehicle operators are taking adequate rest to minimize the risk of fatigued driving when transporting goods:

  • The maximum number of hours a driver is allowed to drive is 11 consecutive hours or cannot exceed the 14-hour duty period;
  • After driving for 11 consecutive hours or after a 14-hour shift, truckers must go off duty and get rest for at least 10 hours; and
  • Drivers are prohibited from operating a commercial vehicle for over 60 hours in a 7-day period or over 70 hours in an 8-day period.

There are separate, slightly different HoS regulations for commercial vehicle operators who transport people, though their goal is the same: To minimize the risk of fatigued and drowsy driving accidents. Previous studies have shown that sleep deprivation can have similar effects on the driver’s body as drinking alcohol.

How the Suspension of HoS Regulations Increases the Risk of Truck Crashes

The FMCSA’s suspension of trucking regulations – and the HoS rules in particular – apply to commercial vehicle drivers who deliver:

  • Medical supplies and equipment that can be used for the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of coronavirus;
  • Supplies and equipment for healthcare workers, patients, and communities to prevent the spread of the virus (masks, disinfectants, gloves, etc.);
  • Food and other essential items for emergency restocking of stores;
  • Items and people to assist with the establishment and management of quarantine facilities and coronavirus-related temporary housing;
  • Persons chosen by authorities for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes; and
  • Individuals who provide medical and other emergency services.

Experts predict that the number of fatigued driving-related truck crashes could rise as a result of the temporary suspension of HoS regulations. Studies have shown that drowsy driving negatively affects a driver’s reaction times, awareness of hazards, and the ability to stay focused on the road.

Are trucking companies still responsible if they cause a crash?

The suspension of the driving time limits does not give trucking companies a pass if the negligent conduct of their driver’s results in a collision. Drivers and companies still have a duty to act responsibly, reasonably, and in due regard for the health and safety of others on the road.

Fatigued truck drivers present a danger to other motorists on the road. If you were involved in a truck collision during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact our Manchester truck accident attorneys. Our knowledgeable lawyers at the Law Office of Manning & Zimmerman can help regardless of whether you were the truck or car driver in your auto accident. Call at 603-624-7200 for a case review. To maintain social distancing, phone and Zoom consults are available!

Resources:

nsc.org/road-safety/safety-topics/fatigued-driving

sleepfoundation.org/articles/drowsy-driving-vs-drunk-driving-how-similar-are-they

fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/us-department-transportation-issues-national-emergency-declaration-commercial-vehicles

https://www.manningzimmermanlaw.com/liability-for-cargo-spills/

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