Keeping the supply chain moving in the midst of a pandemic has been a significant challenge for businesses. With local and regional travel restrictions, essential supplies in short supply, and backups and decreased availability of freight capacity, the trucking industry is stretching for ways to keep goods moving.

“The volume of goods that are being transported, particularly to grocery stores right now is unfathomable, its 2-3 times the Christmas rush, Black Friday type volume,” said Tom Crawford, President and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association.

But the increased demand offers its own set of challenges within the trucking industry, such as compliance with some of the core requirements for drivers.

Industry Challenges

As part of federal regulations, truck drivers must regularly renew their license, or permit if they are in training, and receive annual medical evaluations to ensure they meet basic health requirements.

However, depending on the region, state driver licensing agencies have either closed offices or are experiencing greater than normal employee absences. As a result, some CDL and CLP holders have been unable to renew their licenses and permits. Moreover, many medical offices and clinics have canceled or rescheduled upcoming elective appointments and treatments so that all resources can be directed to the coronavirus response.

To mitigate these problems, drivers holding a commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) and commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) for operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) have received a three-month waiver from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on regulations pertaining to license and permit renewals and medical screenings.

Conditions of the Waiver

Given the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on public health and safety, there is a high demand for transportation of essential supplies and equipment, which in turn requires a sufficient number of CDL holders, CLP holders, and drivers operating CMVs (non-CDL drivers). This waiver provides relief from specified Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for CDL holders, CLP holders, and non-CDL drivers.

This waiver went into effect March 28, 2020 and will expire either on June 30, 2020, or the revocation of the President’s declaration of national emergency related to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), whichever is sooner.

The waiver does not apply to:

  • Licenses that expired on or before March 1, 2020
  • Drivers with revoked or suspended licenses
  • Drivers who hadn’t obtain a medical certificate
  • Drivers who, since their last medical examination, have developed a disqualifying medical condition
  • Drivers with a medical card valid for 90 days or less

While this waiver provides an exemption for CDL, CPL, and medical certificate renewals under the above conditions, it does not provide exemption from state requirements, which may have developed their own guidelines. Moreover, states may choose to enforce prohibitions on commercial vehicle operations with expired licenses.

Implications for Trucking Industry

These waivers have been welcomed by the trucking industry. In a press release from the American Trucking Associations, Dan Horvath, the Vice President of Safety Policy, thanked the FMCSA.

“While America’s truck drivers are out delivering the essential medical supplies, food and other goods we need to combat this virus, FMCSA has taken an important step to let drivers and carriers know how to address things like expired commercial drivers’ licenses or medical cards. With state governments moving to remote work and shuttering offices, drivers will need assistance to continue moving critical goods safely, and [this] guidance is a step toward ensuring those trucks keep moving.”

These changes come as regulations are increasingly relaxed in the trucking industry. Hours of service requirements were eased by the Trump administration in January 2020, and then again in March to help mitigate supply issues experienced by essential service providers across the country.

However, medical regulations are a cause for concern, particularly during pandemic times. Individuals with preexisting conditions are more likely to contract and suffer from severe COVID-19 symptoms. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, long-haul drivers experience high rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. They are also three times as likely to smoke tobacco products.

In order to find a safe balance between economic needs and driver safety, there will need to be close coordination between federal agencies and fleets. Dan Horvath notes, “We share FMCSA’s goal of ensuring not only that our hospitals and markets are well-supplied, but that our highways are safe and we will continue to work with them to achieve both goals during this crisis.”