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Why do carriers and shippers oppose FMCSA’s emergency waiver changes?

The federal government projects truck crash-related deaths to increase 10% in 2022, according to the most recent data, and is a primary reason why safety advocates support a proposal that would limit the scope of emergency waivers that temporarily exempt carriers from certain federal regulations.

“Fatal truck crashes continue to occur at an alarmingly high rate,” Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety states in its response to the proposal, which the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published for comment in December.

The group points out that the number of fatalities in large truck crashes has increased by 66% since 2009.

“While extraordinary circumstances may warrant infrequent emergency regulatory exemptions such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, Advocates concurs with FMCSA that the exemption(s) granted must be narrowly ‘tailored to the specifics of the circumstances and emergency being addressed’ to ensure the public is not endangered.”

In its proposal, however, FMCSA points out that there were no comments filed linking fatalities to the COVID-19 emergency exemption in a previous agency request that sought information on the extent to which carriers were still relying on that exemption.

In addition, the agency acknowledges in the current proposal that it “has no information that suggests that past or existing emergency exemptions have in fact negatively impacted road safety.” That acknowledgement has been cited by many of the other 25 public comments submitted on the FMCSA’s rulemaking petition as a reason for opposing it entirely or rejecting at least some of its provisions.

Carriers point to lack of justification

“We are unclear on exactly why FMCSA is proposing these regulatory changes at this time,” given the lack of proof of a connection between the exemptions and worsening safety, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association argues. “FMCSA also indicates that they lack specific data necessary to warrant altering the scope” of the regulations, OOIDA added. “For these reasons, we do not support the proposed changes to the emergency regulatory relief stipulated in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.”

OOIDA also contends that reducing the automatic regulatory relief from 30 days to five days for regional declarations issued by a state governor — another provision of the proposal — “will obstruct the trucking industry’s ability to operate effectively in communities impacted by the emergency,” it stated. “In our experience, the current 30-day period provides sufficient time to deliver emergency assistance without negatively impacting safety.”

While not specifically noting a lack of data connecting crashes or declining road safety generally to emergency waivers, the American Trucking Associations agreed with OOIDA that shortening emergency relief in regional declarations from 30 to five days is not a good idea.

“FMCSA is correct in their assertion that [a] weather event [necessitating the need for an emergency waiver] would likely conclude within five days, however, emergency relief may often extend well beyond five days,” ATA stated. It pointed to an example in January in which severe weather, including tornados, hit parts of Alabama.

“When the severe weather ended, the trucking industry was immediately engaged in providing basic necessities for life, such as providing shipments of water to areas most impacted by this storm. These essential, lifesaving deliveries took place over a week after the storm ended.”

The Energy Marketers of America, motor carriers that deliver diesel and other fuels from terminals and bulk facilities to retailers, point out that individual states are able to tailor the duration and scope of emergency waivers.

“The [proposal] provides no evidence of an abuse of state waiver authority that would justify the FMCSA’s drastic reduction in duration of the waiver period and the scope of the regulations waived by a governor,” EMA contends.

Shippers agree: Governors know what’s best

A coalition of shippers with members as diverse as Home Depot, Coca-Cola and Cargill are similarly against FMCSA’s proposed waiver changes, arguing that FMCSA should avoid narrowing the definition of what constitutes an emergency to keep supply chains moving during disruptions.

“We do not support the proposed rule, which does not address any identified problem,” the Shippers Coalition stated.

“America wants to solve its supply chain problems … yet, FMCSA has proposed these restrictions to its waiver authority and its ability to respond to supply chain problems in emergencies while acknowledging that it has no evidence” that the current waiver regime has made roads less safe, the group noted, echoing OOIDA’s assertion.

“Governors, in declaring emergencies that last for 30 days under current rules, are closer to the facts than FMCSA and should be allowed to continue to play their current role, which better ensures strong emergency response and more fluid (or at least less constrained) supply chains.” 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.