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Keeping the Food Supply Chain Nimble

By: Matthew Viohl, Manager, Transportation, Labor and Sustainability, FMI

truck-3401529_1920In times of emergency, and with the support of our federal partners, the food supply chain remains flexible, adaptable and resilient. 

Last Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration that allows for motor carriers to be exempted from existing hours of service requirements for those responding to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) support. Importantly, this included the emergency restocking of food, basic sanitary and medical supplies, and other goods. For the first time ever, an FMCSA declaration covered the entirety of the United States, including Washington D.C.—not just for interstate commerce, but intrastate as well.

Yesterday afternoon, the agency followed this up with a new, expanded emergency declaration to help address rising stresses in the nation’s supply chain. The transport of the goods mentioned above now includes shipments to distribution centers, fuel, and “immediate precursor raw materials.” This compromises resources for the creation of products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Hours of Service

Although these exemptions include a number of requirements listed under parts Title 49, Parts 390-399 of the US Code of Federal Regulations, the most of important of these govern hours of service. These rules determine the lengths of time and limits truck drivers are allowed to operate commercial motor vehicles before mandatory breaks or long rests. While the emergency declaration waives these rules for truck drivers supporting Coronavirus relief efforts, there are still some safety-related requirements to ensure that drivers are not put at risk due to overwork.

In addition, the declaration does not allow companies to ignore any existing size and weight restrictions you might currently operate under—unless otherwise noted in any state emergency proclamation that says otherwise. Although FMI is actively working to seek a federal solution to address this uniformly in all fifty states, members are encouraged to seek help from your state’s emergency and/or transportation officials about seeking additional relief. Drivers will still also be held to existing federal requirements for controlled substances, alcohol use and testing, CDL and insurance requirements, and others (please see the declaration for full details).

Overall, FMCSA’s actions represent a significant step forward in giving members the opportunity to combat the significant challenges many currently face. We commend the agency as well as the Department of Transportation for working with FMI and our members in moving quickly to address the concerns of our industry and others.

FSMCA Intention & Resources

And lastly, the FMCSA has a page and e-mail specifically dedicated to information and common questions regarding the latest emergency declaration. We understand that this a uniquely difficult time and navigating the finer details of this unprecedented regulatory action might leave you with more questions than answers. It’s the FMCSA’s intent to allow companies to work in good faith of the declaration. Simply put, if you believe your motor carrier operations constitute direct support for Coronavirus-related relief, you should consider these exemptions applicable to you.

Coronavirus Resources