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The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has uprooted so many aspects of our lives at this point it’s difficult to think of anything that is unchanged. From minor inconveniences like changed shopping habits to major crises like mass layoffs, our communities, state, and nation are grappling with massive change and uncertainty. One of the most concerning impacts of the disruption is that medical institutions hit hard by the virus are in short supply of critically needed equipment and tools. In response to devastating lack of essentials, drastic measures are being taken around the country to mitigate the impacts of these shortages.
The latest installment in these efforts comes from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on March 13th. Following the President’s declaration of a national state of emergency, leadership at the FMCSA was able to issue a significant and impactful relief initiative: suspending drive time limits for drivers carrying essential personnel and cargo. This is the first time in history this type of measure was taken on a national level. In the past, only regions directly impacted by major natural disasters have managed to waive these critical restrictions.
Despite the dire need for supplies and stock, the drive time restrictions are in place for a reason – to prevent dangerous and deadly accidents caused by fatigued drivers. In this time of difficult questions without easy answers, this new suspension raises the issue of what risks we are willing to take to mitigate other dangers.
What are the specific changes to daily drive time limits?
The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the “daily” drive time limits for professional drivers. While referred to as “daily,” the requirements actually exist out of the confinement of standard workdays or weeks, since many drivers work outside of traditional routines.
According to the FMCSA standard, drivers are allowed 14-hour shifts in which they may have up to 11 consecutive hours of driving, IF the shift followed a 10–hour off-duty period. Working shifts are limited to 14-hour periods, even if this period does include loading, offloading, or breaks for lunch or a nap. Many drivers manage their schedules to avoid these breaks and naps, maxing out their shifts with the most possible travel time. More mileage and faster deliveries typically mean higher pay in the world of logistics.
Drivers are required to maintain logbooks of their hours on the road. While falsifying a log book is a felony, and the books are subject to examination by Department of Transportation (DOT) officers, the dangerous activity is relatively common as drivers push themselves to make longer, faster trips for higher pay.
The dangers of these long shifts have been long recognized (in the US, since 1938), but high-powered authorities are making the case that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Acting Administrator of the FMCSA, Jim Mullen, authorized the official statement, which completely relieves the drive time restrictions for deliveries related to coronavirus (COVID-19)-fighting efforts. The drivers with specified cargo (see the next section) currently operate entirely outside of the standard 14-hour shift regulations. The only requirement that these truckers, couriers, and drivers must abide is taking a mandatory 8 or 10 hour break following their delivery.
What deliveries are impacted by the change to daily driving limits?
Thankfully, not every truck on the road right now is running on an unlimited time clock. The lifted hours-of-service mandate applies to truckers hauling only certain groups of people or certain types of cargo outlined below. These groups include medical professionals or sets of individuals being moved for quarantine purposes, and the cargo and deliveries include items deemed essential for lifesaving activity.
“FMCSA’s declaration provides for regulatory relief for commercial motor vehicle operations providing direct assistance supporting emergency relief efforts intended to meet immediate needs for:
- Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19.
- Supplies and equipment, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants, necessary for healthcare worker, patient and community safety, sanitation, and prevention of SARS-CoV-2 spread in communities.
- Food for emergency restocking of stores.
- Equipment, supplies, and persons necessary for establishment and management of temporary housing and quarantine facilities related to COVID-19.
- Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for transport for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes.
- Personnel to provide medical or other emergency services.
To ensure continued safety on the nation’s roadways, the emergency declaration stipulates that once a driver has completed his or her delivery, the driver must receive a minimum of 10 hours off duty if transporting property, and 8 hours if transporting passengers.” – FMCSA March 13th, 2020 Statement
Importantly, not all food deliveries qualify for the above relief measure, only emergency restocking (toilet paper is notably absent in the specifications of emergency stock). Additionally, cargo that is a mixture of essential and non-essential items does not qualify for the daily limit leniency.
How will this impact the rest of us?
These are unprecedented times that we are living through, and no one can predict with certainty what the implications of this decision will be. We may well see an uptick in the amount of fatigue related accidents. Accidents caused by fatigued drivers often occur due to lane wandering, sometimes as severe as driving off the road or driving into oncoming traffic. Running stop signs and red lights, failure to brake and loss of speed control are also culprits as exhausted drivers eyes close and muscles relax in their drowsiness.
Many accidents may result in injury, death, property damage, but in our experience in the personal injury space, some of the worst damage occurs in the speeding, head-on types of collisions that result from falling asleep at the wheel.
An additional potential tragedy that alleviating drive-time restrictions may cause is the loss of the precious cargo these exempt vehicles will be carrying. If sterile supplies or delicate medical instruments in a tractor trailer crash are spilled, damage or compromised on the way to a hospital in need, the whole journey was in vain. Cargo loss and property damage are generally much less tragic than severe injury or loss of life, but if the cargo was in transit to save many more lives, the scope of tragedy in that roadway accident may be incalculable.
Hopefully, with much of the country operating under stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, there are less cars on the road. We certainly want as few people as possible sharing the roads with exhausted, overtaxed drivers hurtling their way toward a critical destination.
What You Can Do to Stay Safe
The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones right now is to follow the instructions of the authorities in your area and stay at home. Stay off the road as much as possible. Leaving the roads free for critical care, essential deliveries, and essential activities helps all of us weather this crisis.
If you do need to leave home for essentials like groceries, medication, or medical treatment, do so as efficiently as possible. Try to schedule your prescriptions for simultaneous pickup and for longer supply. Medical appointments that can be handled over telehealth should be. And if you need to shop for food and supplies, buy in bulk, but don’t hoard. The FDA recommends buying one week’s worth of groceries per trip. Use what you have, plan your meals, and be efficient so that you are able to stay home for extended periods comfortably.
In addition, minimize your delivery orders to just the essentials. We can all take care of our communities right now by limiting our own movement, but we can also help others avoid needless time on the road. Delivery drivers are coping with massive workloads right now, and much of this is for non-essential entertainment items and boredom purchases by those stuck at home.
Finally, and of course, wash your hands, do your best to stay safe and healthy, and help others to do the same. The fewer people that fall ill, the lesser the strain on our healthcare system, and our country as a whole, and the less we will have to resort to extreme measures like the driver daily limits suspension. We all hope to suffer as little damage as possible in this crisis and hope that the pandemic does not breed further tragedy in the form of deadly truck crashes.
If you have been hit by a fatigued delivery driver, or hurt in any motor vehicle accident, Thompson Law is still here for you. We are open and operating, continuing to take new clients, proceeding to process claims, and advancing cases of our existing clients. Our staff is fully operational in work-from-home capacity, and Ryan “The Lion” and his entire Lion Law team remain committed to seeing every client experience the fullest recovery possible and receive the maximum compensation possible. If you need help, please reach out.
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The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Texas is two years, so if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney. The sooner you know your options, the sooner you are on the path to recovery and your deserved compensation. Call the 4’s right away for assistance with your injury and claim: 214-444-4444, 817-444-4444, 972-444-4444, 469-444-4444, or toll-free at 1-800-LION-LAW.