.S. Suspends Truck-Driving Limits to Speed Coronavirus Shipments
The move comes as hospitals report shortages and retailers and manufacturers strain under surging demand
U.S. highway-safety regulators are suspending rules that limit daily driving hours for truck drivers moving emergency supplies such as medical equipment, hand sanitizer and food in response to the nationwide coronavirus outbreak.
The Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the nationwide exemption late Friday, following President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over the pandemic.
The move “will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen said.
It comes as hospitals report shortages of medical masks and as retailers and manufacturers are straining under surging demand for everything from hand sanitizer to staples such as toilet paper and rice. As anxious consumers stockpile goods, grocers have turned to rationing, imposing purchase limits on disinfectant wipes, cleaning supplies and other high-demand products.
The move is the first time the FMCSA has issued nationwide-wide relief from hours-of-service regulations, although regional declarations have waived those rules in response to disasters such as hurricanes.
Federal regulations limit most commercial truck drivers to 11 hours of driving time in a 14-hour workday, restrictions intended to reduce accidents caused by highway fatigue.
The national emergency declaration applies to carriers providing direct assistance to relief efforts tied to the coronavirus pandemic, such as moving medical supplies and equipment to test, diagnose and treat Covid-19. It also applies to those hauling goods to help prevent its spread, including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and disinfectants.
Drivers transporting “food for emergency restocking of stores” are also covered by the declaration.
It also applies to motor carriers moving medical and emergency services providers, people needed to set up and manage temporary housing and quarantine facilities, and people being moved for medical, isolation or quarantine purposes, the agency said.
The declaration doesn’t apply to routine commercial deliveries or truckers hauling mixed loads that include essential supplies. Drivers that inform motor carriers they need immediate rest must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Corona lockdown: Trucks stuck, drivers surviving on water
Nearly 500,000 drivers and helpers have been left high and dry across many state borders, according to estimates by the Indian ng (IFTRT)
In a precautionary measure to combat the deadly coronavirus spread, the centre and the state governments have ordered complete lock down for 21 days.
Safety steps by the government may not be soothing for everyone and might affect them strongly.
According to a report in Business standard, nearly 500,000 drivers and helpers have been left high and dry across many state borders, estimates made by the Indian Foundation of Transport Research and Training (IFTRT) suggest.
Even the trucks carrying essential goods are not allowed to move or to cross the state borders following the government orders to seal the borders and check posts, the report suggested.
Business standard quoted twenty eight-year-old Mohammad Javed, driver of a truck carrying LPG cylinders as saying, “I started from Mangalore at 4 am today and have been at the border check post of Hubli since 1 pm. The police officers stationed here are not allowing me to go ahead and they thrash me when I request them to let me go. They are not even willing to talk. I have been surviving only on water and even that is over.
There are at least 25 to 30 trucks loaded with LPG cylinders which are marooned in that area, Javed added.
Suresh Khosla, partner at Shri Anand Transport Agency, which employs Javed, told Business Standard that he’s in touch with the Federation of Bombay Motor Transport Operators for the release of the trucks on an urgent basis.
The company is into transporting essential bulk commodities, but it’s a challenge to continue with the business as all entry points to Maharashtra have been shut due to coronavirus, Khosla points out, according to the report.
“The biggest challenge we are facing is with all the dhabas and restaurants being shut, the drivers have no option but to starve. The loading location provides food but enroute no dhabas are open,” says a person associated with the business.
With the drivers being stuck at the borders their families are anxious about their return because even vehicle repair is also difficult during this lockdown in case their vehicle breaks down on the way.
Business Standard quoted Balmalkit Singh, chairman of All Indian Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) as saying, “There’s been a ripple effect with the plight of the hapless drivers stuck at the borders reaching their co-workers. They are now refusing to report to work.”
“With no food or requisite infrastructure in sight, they don’t want to leave home.” The delays are also because of the confusion regarding what is essential and what’s non-essential. “Everything has come to a standstill,” he added.
In a conversation with Business Standard SP Singh, senior officer at IFTRT said, “There is a large exodus of drivers from the loading points. They are rushing home. Some 250,000 to 300,000 drivers have already left for their native places after handing over the keys to their owners.”
“We have been asking the government for a bailout package. Owners are not able to help in anyway. They (drivers) are facing a lot of hardship. Most of them are not on the payrolls of the transporters and are on minimum wages,” Singh added.
The nationwide lockdown has made it difficult for daily wagers as well as small scale companies to survive in this massive economic slowdown. Amid the lockdown the demand of essential good has also been raised and manufacturers of various goods are scrambling to keep pace.
Poland, Germany and Hungary have lines of tens of thousands of trucks at their borders averaging 60km long taking more than 18 hours to be checked and cleared.
Virus lockdown measures have forced national governments to relax laws related to driving and hauling cargo, as the outbreak prompts countries to rethink the rules of the road in order to keep goods flowing.
Most EU countries have now agreed to a temporary and limited relaxation of rules on driving hours, aimed at helping commercial drivers navigate traffic jams and longer waiting times during the coronavirus outbreak.
National governments have notified the European Commission about the changes they have made – which are allowed during extenuating circumstances – in order to “ensure national supply of goods”.
France, for example, has increased the maximum daily drive-time limit from nine hours to ten, while neighbouring Luxembourg has chosen to increase the weekly limit from 56 to 60 hours.
Governments have also decided to give drivers extra leeway on mandatory breaks. Bulgaria will halve the weekly rest time, while others like Greece have reduced the obligatory daily break.
The virus outbreak has prompted some MEPs to try and torpedo EU rules related to transport – grouped together under the Mobility Package – by citing the “uncertainty of the situation”.
Romanian lawmaker Marian Marianescu urged EU transport chief and compatriot Adina Vălean to suspend the upcoming adoption of the 1st Package, which prompted a swift reply from colleagues in the European Parliament.
Greens MEP Karima Delli, who heads the assembly’s transport committee, said that “the pandemic cannot be used to try to block the Mobility Package. It is neither decent nor relevant.”
Socialist lawmaker Ismail Ertug said the virus is “more a reason to accelerate the MP1 process rather than to stop it”. The German MEP added that “the crisis cannot be an excuse for the distortion of fundamental driver rights”.
The Mobility Package has split western and eastern member states, the latter of which have branded the legislation protectionist and dubbed it “the Macron package”.
Extra border checks and even closures played havoc with international road traffic at the beginning of Europe’s coronavirus outbreak, as new measures caused tailbacks stretching 60 kilometres in places.
The Commission sent practical guiding notes to governments earlier this week to help set up priority ‘green lanes’ for cargo and medical personnel. The EU executive insisted that border crossings should take no longer than 15 minutes.