All across the country, medical clinics and retail stores are running out of medical supplies and basic necessities because of the coronavirus pandemic. People fearing an extended, enforced “stay-at-home” quarantine purchased toilet paper, paper towels, bottled water, gloves, flour, and other commodities en masse, leading to an unprecedented hoarding issue.
In order to get more supplies back on shelves and in hospital storerooms, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was instructed by the Trump Administration to lift one of its most important safety regulations. In mid-March 2020, commercial truck drivers were allowed to exceed the typical daily driving hours limitation. The expectation is that more products and supplies will reach more stores and clinics sooner if truckers can work longer hours.
Under normal circumstances, the average truck driver cannot drive for more than 11 hours a shift with at least another 3 hours spent on break and not behind the wheel. With the regulation lifted, some truck drivers can spend as many hours as they or their employers want before taking time off.
Only Certain Trucks Get the Exception
The alteration to the FMCSA hour limit regulation is not a universal one, though. Only specific truck drivers who are hauling cargo that can help people impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are allowed to extend their drive time hours.
A truck driver may complete an extended shift if transporting:
- Medical supplies that prevent the spread of the coronavirus
- Medical equipment used for treatments, researching, and testing for COVID-19
- Retail supplies to sanitize surfaces, clean clothing, wash hands, etc.
- Food to restock stores with drastically low supplies
- Personnel assisting with quarantine procedures
- Medical personnel like doctors and nurses
Furthermore, a truck driver cannot choose to extend their shift on a whim. Instead, they must plan ahead by accepting an extended shift or route from their employer or the trucking company contracting them. Once the planned extended shift is completed, an 8-to-10 hour off-duty period must follow.
Is Lifting the Regulation a Good Idea?
The thought of allowing a truck driver to stay on the road for even longer than 11 hours has already caused widespread concern. The FMCSA first created the regulation back in 1938 after it became apparent that a fatigued truck driver was far more likely to cause a truck accident than a well-rested trucker. Throughout the history of the regulation, it has been consistently lambasted for being too lenient as it is. What sort of trouble will happen now that it is has been lifted entirely for some truckers?
As exhaustion sets in, a motorist’s reaction time, ability to perceive distances accurately, and general judgment calls worsen. With limited faculties, there is an inherently increased risk of a truck accident. For example, if another driver needs to come to a sudden stop in front of a big rig to avoid a crash, then the truck driver will misunderstand the distance between them and the other vehicle, take longer to hit the brakes, and/or not realize there is a reason to apply the brakes at all.
How You Can Protect Yourself
Until the FMCSA regulation is reinstated, you can safely assume that the roads are less safe than they were before whenever a commercial truck is present. To reduce the chances of getting caught in a truck accident caused by a fatigued trucker, the best thing you can do is stay off the roads as much as possible. Do not take any nonessential trips during the quarantine. Only leave for work, necessary medical appointments, or grocery shopping when running low on supplies.
When you do need to travel the roads around your hometown again, be especially mindful of commercial trucks, big rigs, and tractor-trailers. There will be no way to know if a truck is transporting essential goods and medical supplies, so you have to assume that they all are. Do your best to keep space and lanes between your vehicle and any commercial truck. If something goes wrong and the truck driver makes a dangerous mistake, then you will have more time and space to react and hopefully avoid an accident.
Legal Help After a Truck Accident
No matter how careful you are behind the wheel when driving during the coronavirus pandemic, you cannot make any truckers act responsibly. You could be blindsided by an exhausted trucker. In such a situation, you need to seek medical attention and call a lawyer.
If you live in Los Angeles and need the assistance of a truck accident attorney after a crash, call (310) 231-9717 and connect with McGee, Lerer & Associates. We are still capable of accepting new clients during the coronavirus pandemic by utilizing remote services and technologies, like video conferencing and emails.