There doesn’t seem to be anyone untouched by the ongoing pandemic. The trucking industry has been significantly impacted, causing the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to extend the Emergency Declaration through Feb. 28, 2022. This declaration is imperative in ensuring that vital supplies and transportation services are distributed to areas requiring emergency relief. In order to meet the exemption requirements, trucking fleets must be providing direct emergency assistance.
Regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance in support of emergency relief efforts related to COVID-19 is limited to transport of:
- Livestock and livestock feed
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19
- Vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies/kits for the administration of vaccines, related to the prevention of COVID-19
- Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectants
- Food, paper products, and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores
- Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and ethyl alcohol
- Supplies to assist individuals impacted by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic (for example: building materials for individuals displaced or otherwise impacted as a result of the emergency)
Routine commercial deliveries and mixed loads that are not providing direct assistance for COVID-19 relief efforts do not qualify for this relief. Motor carriers must still comply with state laws and regulations, such as speed limits, traffic regulations, and size and weight requirements. Fatigued drivers will be immediately allowed 10 consecutive hours of rest after notice of the condition is provided by a driver to the motor carrier.
Trucking companies may try to account for the shortage by filling their trucks with too much cargo. Brad says, “This is especially dangerous because overloaded trucks are much more difficult to maneuver and need greater stopping distances. Overweight trucks are also more prone to equipment failures and tire blowouts.” It’s also possible that companies may overlook drivers with prior safety violations or hire inexperience drivers because they are desperate to meet delivery schedules.
This pandemic comes on the heels of an increasing truck driver shortage. The American Trucking Association estimates that nearly 75 percent of all freight moved across the country goes on trucks. Trucking companies are currently down about 60,000 drivers, and estimates suggest that the shortage will reach more than 170,000 by 2028.
A truck driver shortage negatively impacts the economy. Brad says, “Stores are struggling to keep shelves full, which means consumers can’t buy the products they need and that manufacturers are making less profit.” This was abundantly clear with the great toilet paper debacle caused by the pandemic last year. “It also means that freight costs rise, which is passed on to consumers by way of higher retail prices,” Brad says.