FMCSA COVID-19 Hours of Service (HOS) Emergency Declaration

This post was updated April 9, 2020 to include FMCSA clarifications and expansions to their emergency declaration. 

On April 8, 2020 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration expanded their emergency declaration that impacts Hours of Service (HOS) rules regulating the trucking industry. While it is common for FMCSA to issue these declarations for loads involved with disaster response, such as hurricanes and fire response, this declaration may be the broadest they have ever issued.

Here is what you need to know

The emergency declaration allows motor carriers and drivers providing “direct assistance in support of relief efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreaks relief from Parts 390 through 399 of the Title 49 Code for Federal Regulations,” with a few exceptions which we’ve outline below. This means carriers providing direct assistance do not need to observe current, non-emergency hours of service regulations.

Direct assistance has been defined as “transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver(s) incident to the immediate restoration of essential services, such as medical care, or essential supplies such as food, related to COVID-19 outbreaks during the emergency.”

Frequently asked questions about the FMCSA emergency declaration can be found here and here.

Current Non-emergency Rules:

  • Drivers can work a 14-hour day, 11 hours of which can be drive time under most circumstances.
  • Drivers are required to
    rest for 10 consecutive hours in order to rest their daily clocks, with a few exceptions.
  • Once per week drivers need to take a 34-hour restart where they are off duty. (It’s actually every 60 or 70 hours per week but think of it as once per week).

Emergency Suspension Details:

There are eight situations covered by the exemption:

  1. Medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19;
  2. Supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation, and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap and disinfectants
  3. Food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores
  4. Immediate precursor raw materials-such as paper, plastic or alcohol-that are required and to be used for the manufacture of items in categories (1), (2) or (3)
  5. Fuel
  6. Equipment, supplies and persons necessary to establish and manage temporary housing, quarantine, and isolation facilities related to COVID-19
  7. Persons designated by Federal, State or local authorities for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes;
  8. Persons necessary to provide other medical or emergency services, the supply of which may be affected by the COVID-19 response.

It’s important to note the exemption specifically does NOT apply to mixed loads that only include a “nominal quantity of qualifying emergency relief added to obtain the benefits of this emergency declaration”. However, the exemption specifically EXCLUDES “routine commercial deliveries.”


The suspension of HOS rules does NOT allow drivers to drive in a condition that endangers the public and they must continue to drive safely and rest when needed.

Canadian COVID-19 HOS emergency declarations

On March 24, Transport Canada issued an emergency declaration regarding Hours of Service for carriers supporting COVID-19 relief efforts. Learn more here.

Impacts and Discussion

The 3rd criteria covers loads for emergency food restocking at stores and distribution centers which will likely cause the most confusion. Work with your supply chain partners on developing a standard operating procedure to designate specific loads that should be covered under this criterion if needed.

Remember that brokers and shippers continue to be governed under the coercion rule. If a driver directly tells a shipper or broker that they cannot meet the service requirements because they would be forced to violate hours, speed or other rules, the shipper or broker cannot coerce the driver into violating those rules and need to find alternatives. Additionally, loading and unloading times are often the places that are most impacted by these emergency declarations and allow drivers much more flexibility with loading and unloading times.

Final thoughts

There may be some confusion as word of this declaration spreads quickly. Electronic Logging Device’s (ELD) should already be capable of handling emergency declaration scenarios, but many drivers and companies may not be familiar with how to use these features. In addition, we will continue to update FAQ’s as we get them on this blog.

Remember that solely because a driver may be exempt from HOS rules when loading or unloading, does not mean the customer is exempt from paying for the driver’s services. This declaration only applies to service, not price.

As the situation remain fluid, we will provide relevant updates or changes as they arise. We encourage you to reach out to your account manager or connect with a supply chain expert for additional questions.

You can read the full emergency declaration here.

Jason Craig
Government Affairs Director
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