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COVID-19 Relief Efforts and FMCSA Compliance


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The FMCSA has issued an emergency declaration that exempts certain motor carriers and drivers from the safety regulations in 49 CFR Parts 390-399 when assisting with relief efforts related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

To be eligible, a motor carrier or driver must be providing “direct assistance” to relief efforts. This includes transportation or other relief services related to the immediate restoration of essential services or supplies, including:

  • Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19;
  • Supplies and equipment needed for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants;
  • Food for emergency restocking of stores;
  • Equipment, supplies, and people needed to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities;
  • People designated by a government authority for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes, and people needed to provide other medical or emergency services.

Drivers are NOT considered to be providing direct assistance if they engage in routine commercial deliveries or transport mixed loads that are only partially going to the relief effort. Drivers must continue to comply with drug and alcohol testing, CDL licensing, and insurance rules, if applicable.

Drivers remain exempt when driving an empty vehicle for the return trip back to the terminal after direct assistance is complete.

The exemption is in place through April 12, 2020, unless the emergency is declared to be over before then.


Hours of Service compliance

While providing direct assistance, eligible drivers are exempt from the hours-of-service rules, including driving limits, logs, and ELDs, though driving while ill or fatigued is never advised. When direct assistance ends, if a driver says he or she is fatigued and needs rest before returning to the normal work-reporting location, the driver must be given at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.

After a driver has returned to his or her normal work-reporting location and is no longer providing direct assistance, the driver must have at least 10 hours off duty if operating a property-carrying vehicle, or 8 hours off duty if operating a bus or other passenger-carrying vehicle.

The on-duty hours worked during the emergency must be taken into consideration when determining where a driver stands on the 60/70-hour limit once emergency-relief work is done. This means that tracking a driver’s time is still important. For truck drivers, getting a 34-hour restart at the conclusion of emergency work may be the best option.

Eligible drivers using electronic logging devices (ELDs) have three options to consider:

  1. Log in to the ELD and use it as normal, but annotate the time as exempt so enforcement knows not to include the time in any HOS calculations. Your ELD will show you in violation when over limits but you will not be written for a violation if you are compliant with the exemption. An example annotation could be: “Direct assistance in COVID-19 efforts.”
  2. Log in, use the “personal use” setting, and annotate the reason (e.g., “Direct assistance in COVID-19 efforts”). Driving time will be recorded as off-duty driving and will not affect HOS calculations. This avoids the creation of unassigned events.
  3. Refrain from logging in to the ELD. This is the least preferred option. This will generate unassigned driving events, and each one will need to be assigned or annotated in Encompass.


Upon the conclusion of emergency-relief efforts, each driver must again comply with the log/ELD and other HOS requirements. If you're not sure if the load/freight qualifies for the exemption, use the Expert Help feature in Encompass to ask one of our J. J. Keller Editorial Experts!


Written by Daren Hansen, Sr. Editor - Transportation Safety Content, J. J. Keller & Associates; 16 Mar 2020 

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