FMCSA tightens rules for exempted regulations during emergencies

Updated Oct 17, 2023
Tracor-trailer on the highway in a storm

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration earlier this week issued a final rulemaking that narrows the scope of regulatory relief provided drivers delivering direct assistance during emergencies. 

The new rule announced Tuesday, Oct. 10 still allows relief from hours of service regulations but eliminates automatic exemptions for other rules including medical certification of drivers, vehicle inspection requirements, parts and accessories, and transportation of hazardous materials. The agency said those regulations "often have no direct bearing on the motor carrier's ability to provide direct assistance to the emergency relief effort." FMCSA added that waiving these regulations could negatively the safety of commercial motor vehicles operating on the roadways.

FMCSA said the new rule modifies the definition of emergency 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, unless such conditions or events cause an immediate threat to human life and result in a declaration of an emergency." 

While the new rule allows presidentially-declared emergencies to remain in place for 30 days, regional emergency declarations issued by a governor, a governor’s authorized representative, or the FMCSA, will only apply for 14 days and will only provide relief from the hours of service regulations.

Governor-declared emergencies caused by a shortage of residential heating fuel still require a 30-day relief period, which is required by the Reliable Home Heating Act.

For local emergencies, the automatic regulatory relief remains limited to five days.

In a statement announcing the rule changes, FMCSA said, "The agency’s decision comes after thorough assessment of relevant data. Receiving public input was a critical part of the decision-making process, and we thank all who provided comment in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking FMCSA issued last December. We reviewed each and every comment received.  

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The FMCSA website has the full contents of this final rulemaking.