A Closer Look at the FMCSA’s National Emergency Declaration

When COVID-19, a member of the coronavirus family, first appeared in Wuhan, China, it set off a chain of events that eventually forced countries and communities to impose emergency measures to prevent the spread of the dangerous virus. These extreme measures are undoubtedly necessary to curb the spread of the coronavirus, but it's left communities uncertain about how they can attain the necessary supplies they need to withstand and outlast the virus. 

In response to growing concerns in America regarding a shortage of necessary supplies, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a national emergency declaration, and announced steps intended to provide emergency relief to communities across the country. 

As a result of the declaration, the rule that usually limits daily driving hours for truck drivers has been suspended for those who are transporting emergency supplies such as medical equipment, hand sanitizer, and other supplies that the FMCSA and health officials have deemed necessary to help combat the spread of COVID-19. 


What the Declaration is Intended to Accomplish


The rapid spread of the Coronavirus has led to uncertainty surrounding nearly every aspect of life in the United States. People self quarantining, or at the very least social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, has led to businesses shutting their doors and employees being left in uncertain situations. 

Jim Mullen, FMCSA Acting Administrator, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that the move to suspend limits on those drivers who are delivering health-care related products, “will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently.”

The decision was an unprecedented one. The rule that is being suspended comes from an 82-year-old road safety law put in place to ensure drivers aren’t overworked, so the fact that it is being altered puts in perspective just how desperate certain situations around the country are becoming. 


The Items That Classify as “Critical Goods”


The rule limiting daily driving hours for truckers doesn’t apply to all drivers, only those who are transporting critical supplies and equipment necessary for community safety. According to the FMCSA, the types of loads that are exempt from the rule include: Medical supplies and equipment related to testing and treating the coronavirus, food for the emergency stocking of stores, community sanitation products (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, etc), items needed to manage quarantine and isolation facilities, and a few other similarly important products. Read the entire list here

These are the items that the FMCSA and health officials have deemed absolutely critical to the ability of individuals and communities to manage, and in some cases, survive, the outbreak of COVID-19. 


How these Changes Will Impact Shortages 


During natural disasters, health crises, and other incidents that incite mass panic, there is one thing experts know to expect; panic buying. Once people get wind of an issue that may force them to stay in their homes for an extended period of time, items such as food, sanitary products, and toilet paper tend to fly off the shelves. As a result, people who may be desperately in need of certain products are unable to attain them, oftentimes leading to devastating consequences.  

With the decision to suspend the rule that limits the daily driving hours for truck drivers delivering essential goods, shelves will be stocked quicker, and more items will wind up in the hands of those who need them. This decision by the FMCSA is intended to reduce the spread of the virus, and keep panic to a minimum.

The shockwaves of the coronavirus are continuing to be felt around the globe. Different countries and different communities are handling the crisis in their own ways, but containing the virus is no simple task. The steps announced by the FMCSA and US Department of Transportation should, at the very least, help slow the spread of COVID-19, and ensure that crucial items end up in the hands of those who need them most.