Broad waiver of truck safety rules after Hurricane Katrina
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations include a provision for waiver of rules in emergency situations. Some are concerned, however, that the waiver of safety rules may be too broad and may be used as a pretext for long-term weaking of rules designed to protect the public safety.
In the weeks after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, two declarations of emergency and one other White House emergency-related proclamation have weakened rules for truckers and motor carriers, effectively waiving most FMCSA safety regulations in order to respond to the “emergency” situations, however loosely defined. The result in all three cases is the waiver of qualifications for drivers, safety requirements for carrier parts and accessories, hours of service requirements for drivers, inspection, repair and maintenance standards for vehicles, requirements for the transportation of hazardous materials, as well as employee safety and health standards.
The regional declaration of emergency issued by FMCSA, which went into effect Aug. 31, waives safety regulations for the “emergency transportation of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, natural gas/CNG, propane and ethanol.” The original declaration of regional emergency expired on Sept. 15; however, FMCSA has extended the waiver of safety regulations through Oct. 5 for transportation to, from, and within the states in the eastern (CT, DC, DE, MD, MA, NH, ME, NJ, NY, RI, VT, PA, VA, WV) and southern (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NM, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX) regions of the country.
The White House’s authorization of emergency relief in support of evacuees in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia automatically triggered the waiver of safety regulations for the “emergency movement to, from, or within those States of items needed to house, feed, or clothe evacuees.”
The White House’s declaration of emergency for the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas resulted in a waiver of safety regulations for truckers delivering “direct emergency relief to, from, or within” those states, “regardless of commodity carried.” This waiver went into effect Aug. 29.
The waivers are quite broad, despite not affecting the requirements for commercial drivers licenses or state regulations of vehicle weight. For example, FMCSA will allow drivers to assist the Gulf Coast efforts who are not otherwise qualified to drive, and trucks delivering fuel in most parts of the country will not have to meet standard levels of maintenance and service. Further, the declaration waives the hours of service regulations, which limit the number of consecutive hours a truck driver can work without taking a break. Under FMCSA regulations that operate during declarations of emergency, a driver must receive ten hours of off-duty rest if he or she requests it, but companies do not otherwise have to comply with hours-of-service regulations. Though a temporary waiver may have been necessary to help evacuate the area or to provide immediate assistance, now that the areas hit by the storm have been fully evacuated, waiving these important regulations puts truck drivers as well as others on the road needlessly at risk.
See OMB Watch.
The Shigley Law Firm represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a “SuperLawyer” in Atlanta Magazine and one of the “Legal Elite” in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks).