Since 1938, the hours of service rules (HOS) have regulated when and how long truckers are allowed to drive. The rules are designed to make the roads safer, as up to 6,000 fatal crashes are caused by drowsy drivers every year. Enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the rules have sometimes been lifted on the state or local level during emergency situations. For example, HOS rules are often lifted during hurricanes to ensure vital supplies are delivered to vulnerable communities and medical care providers.
However, on Friday evening, the FMCSA has lifted the HOS rules nationwide for the first time in 82 years. As long as a truck is delivering goods “in support of emergency relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks,” truck drivers will be able to drive as long as they need to. The supplies mentioned in the Friday announcement include medical supplies, masks, and hand sanitizer—all of which could be running low in countless communities nationwide.
The full list of goods or passengers that exempt truckers from the HOS rules include:
- Medical supplies for testing, diagnosis, and treatment of coronavirus
- Masks, gloves, soap, and other supplies necessary for community health
- Food for restocking grocery stores
- Equipment and supplies needed to manage quarantine facilities
- People who provide medical services or are designated by authorities for medical or isolation purposes
70% of goods in America are delivered by trucks, and given the wide range of supplies on this list, there are a lot of truckers who will no longer be abiding by HOS regulations for the time being. In this time, it is more important than ever for truckers to sleep when they need to and operate their vehicles as safely as possible.
Current HOS Rules
Currently, truck drivers are only permitted to work for 14 hours a day maximum, only 11 of which can be spent driving. Truckers must then log (using an electronic device) 10 hours of “off-duty” time, a certain number of which must be spent in the truck’s bunk.
The rules are unpopular within the trucking industry, but they’re designed to keep both truckers and motorists safe. According to the CDC, commercial drivers are among the most likely people to fall asleep at the wheel, and drowsy driving is often underreported among drivers in general.
Increased Trucking Activity in Major Cities
Measuring the volume of goods delivered to certain metro areas can indicate where “panic buying,” or the fear-motivated buying of consumer goods, is taking place. From March 1 to March 10, volume delivered to Seattle increased 12x to 15x the normal rate, and both Los Angeles and New York are experiencing similar results.
Hurricanes often create the same conditions on the local level, but panic buying in response to COVID-19 is different for two reasons:
- The entire country is affected
- There’s no way of knowing yet when this is going to end
Psychologists believe that panic buying is born out of our need to "control" our environment. When we buy more supplies, we feel safer and more in control. However, mass buying has created a serious supply problem, which is why an uncounted number of truckers will now be driving around the clock—at least for now.
Arnold & Itkin sincerely hope that while HOS rules are lifted, truckers will drive responsibly, getting the rest they need to ensure highway safety during these unusual times.