FMCSA Narrows Emergency Exemption Rule

FMCSA Narrows Emergency Exemption Rule

This rule provides clarity on which exemptions are necessary during an emergency, help track exemption requests more efficiently, and ensures the public continues to benefit from the other important safety requirements in parts 390 through 399.

After 3 years of COVID pandemic hours-of-service waivers, FMCSA is planning to place limits on the amount of regulatory relief that is granted when an emergency declaration is declared.

On Tuesday, October 10th, the FMCSA announced a final rule that would narrow the scope of safety regulations from which relief is automatically provided for motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance when an emergency has been declared.

This rule changes the definition of emergency under § 390.23 to clarify that “emergency regulatory relief” generally DOES NOT apply to economic conditions that are caused by market forces, including:

  • shortages of raw materials or supplies
  • labor strikes
  • driver shortages
  • inflation, or
  • fluctuations in freight shipment or brokerage rates

However, it would be an emergency if these conditions or events “cause an immediate threat to human life”.

While they acknowledge that the use of emergency declarations has not yielded negative safety results, the goal would be to ensure that the relief granted “is appropriate and tailored” to the specifics of the circumstances and the emergency being addressed.

What else will this final rule change?

This final rule revises the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to:

  • Allow automatic relief of hours-of-service regulations during an emergency, while shortening the duration and scope of exemption, except in the case of a presidential declaration of federal emergency
  • Eliminate the provision that provided automatic regulatory relief for other elements such as medical certification of drivers, vehicle inspection requirements, parts and accessories and transportation of hazardous materials
  • Reduce the regional emergency exemption window from 30 to 14 days
  • Allow for additional reporting requirements when issuing extended or modified exemptions
  • Establish a dedicated email inbox for extension or modification requests

Direct assistance terminates when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo not destined for the emergency relief effort, or when the motor carrier dispatches such driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce. 

The final rule will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, around December 11, 2023.

What does emergency mean?

Emergency means:

  • Any hurricane, tornado, storm (e.g., thunderstorm, snowstorm, ice storm, blizzard, sandstorm, etc.), high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, mudslide, drought, forest fire, explosion, blackout, or other occurrences, natural or man-made
  • Which interrupts the delivery of:
    • essential services (e.g., electricity, medical care, sewer, water, telecommunications, and telecommunication transmissions) or
    • essential supplies (e.g., food and fuel) or
    • otherwise immediately threatens human life or public welfare
  • Provided such hurricane, tornado, or other event results in a declaration of an emergency by:
    • the President of the United States;
    • the Governor of a State, or their authorized representatives having authority to declare emergencies;
    • the FMCSA;
    • any other Federal, State, or local government officials having authority to declare emergencies; or
    • request from a police officer for tow trucks to move wrecked or disabled motor vehicles.

Emergency does NOT include:

  • Events arising from economic conditions that are caused by market forces, including
    • Shortage of raw materials (e.g., driver shortages, computer chip shortages, other supply chain issues) or labor strikes,
    • Unless such event causes an immediate threat to human life, and
    • Results in a declaration of an emergency by the President of the United States, the Governor of a State, or their authorized representatives having authority to declare emergencies; by FMCSA; or by other Federal, State, or local government officials having authority to declare emergencies

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