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General Emergency FAQs

1.  How do State and Federal Declarations of Emergency affect motor carrier operations?

When an official governmental Declaration of Emergency is issued for a type of major emergency, motor carriers and operators of commercial motor vehicles that are providing emergency relief through direct assistance to support State and local efforts to save lives or property or to protect public health or safety, are relieved from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations listed in 49 CFR Parts 390-399.  (The italicized words are defined in 49 CFR 390.5.)

Even though safety regulations may be suspended, drivers and carriers are expected to use good judgment and not to operate vehicles when drivers are fatigued or ill, or under any conditions presenting a clear hazard to other motorists using the highways.

2.  What regulations are included in 49 CFR Parts 390-399?

Among the major regulations are those safety rules relating to hours of service, vehicle maintenance and inspection, and general driver qualifications.  The complete Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations can be found at  www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations.

3.  What safety regulations are NOT exempted by an Emergency Declaration?

Drivers and motor carriers must continue to comply with the Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing requirements (49 CFR part 382), the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements (49 CFR part 383), the Minimum Levels of Financial Responsibility requirements (49 CFR part 387), and the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR parts 100-185).   

4.  What other regulations are NOT exempted by a Declaration of Emergency?

Declarations of emergency that trigger the provisions of 49 CFR 390.23 do not exempt motor carriers or drivers from requirements relating to license plates, taxes, oversize-overweight rules, or “for hire” Federal or State registration requirements.  However, individual governors’ declarations may provide for exemptions from State laws or regulations.

Additionally, motor carriers or drivers currently subject to an out-of-service order are not eligible for the exemption until they have met the applicable conditions for its rescission and the order has been rescinded by FMCSA.

5.  Where do the emergency exemptions apply?

Drivers responding to provide direct assistance to a declared emergency are exempt from applicable regulations in all States on their route to the emergency, even though those States may not be involved in the emergency or stated in the declaration of emergency.

6.  How do I know what emergency declarations are in effect at any given time?

The FMCSA makes every attempt to list known declarations of emergency on its website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov/emergency.   Regional emergency exemptions based on 49 CFR 390.23 are valid for 30 days or the duration of the carrier’s or driver’s direct assistance, whichever occurs sooner.

7.  What services and supplies are covered by an emergency declaration?

In general, direct assistance includes the immediate restoration of essential services (such as electricity, medical care, sewer, water, telecommunications, and telecommunication transmissions) or essential supplies (such as food and fuel).  It is not possible to list what would be essential in each emergency situation. 

8.  What would NOT be included in exempt services and supplies in a declared emergency?

The emergency exemption does not include transportation related to long-term rehabilitation of damaged physical infrastructure or routine commercial deliveries after the initial threat to life and property has passed.  The services and supplies must be intended to meet immediate needs.

9.  Are motor carriers required to obtain approval from the FMCSA prior to participating in the emergency relief effort?

No.  With one exception, any motor carrier providing direct assistance, as defined in the regulations, to the emergency relief effort may participate.  However, motor carriers that have an Out-of-Service (OOS) Order must continue to comply with that order during the emergency and are prohibited from providing any transportation of freight or passengers while the order is in effect.

10.  I have a truck that is not normally used commercially and a local charitable group wants me to take donated clothing and supplies to the impacted area.  What do I need to know?

Be certain to read all of these FAQs to ensure compliance, and consult your State’s commercial vehicle enforcement officers (usually State Police) if in doubt.  It is very strongly recommended that you have a definite trip plan in mind before starting toward the disaster area.  In other words, know what materials are needed and desired, exactly where you will deliver them, what routes are open, etc.  For most major emergencies, websites are deployed to help provide this type of information.  

11.  Am I still exempt while returning empty from delivering an exempt load?

49 CFR 390.23 provides, in part, “…A driver may return empty to the motor carrier's terminal or the driver's normal work reporting location without complying with parts 390 through 399 of this chapter. However, a driver who informs the motor carrier that he or she needs immediate rest must be permitted at least 10 consecutive hours off duty before the driver is required to return to such terminal or location. Having returned to the terminal or other location, the driver must be relieved of all duty and responsibilities. Direct assistance terminates when a driver or commercial motor vehicle is used in interstate commerce to transport cargo not destined for the emergency relief effort, or when the motor carrier dispatches such driver or commercial motor vehicle to another location to begin operations in commerce.”

If you are returning to pick-up another exempt load after delivering one, you remain exempt while running empty to pick-up additional exempt loads.

12.  How do I need to identify my vehicle when providing direct assistance? What paperwork must I carry?

There are no specific requirements to identify a vehicle operating under an emergency declaration or for paperwork that must be carried on the vehicle.  However, drivers should be prepared to explain to law enforcement officers how their shipment qualifies under the emergency provisions.

13. Do I need to stop at weigh stations when operating under a declared emergency exemption?

Weigh stations are managed by individual States, so requirements to stop vary.  Unless advised otherwise, you should assume that normal rules apply even during a declared emergency.

14.  How do I log my time when operating under an emergency exemption?

Since the hours-of-service rules do not apply when operating under declaration of emergency issued under 49 CFR 390.23, you do not have to maintain a record of duty status (log).  However, it is recommended that, for future reference, you explain the activity in the log “remarks” section without completing the detailed grid. 

15. Can an emergency declaration be extended?

Yes, under 49 CFR § 390.25 FMCSA may extend the 30-day time period of a regional emergency declaration issued under 49 CFR § 390.23(a)(1) taking into account the severity of the ongoing emergency and the nature of the relief services to be provided.  If FMCSA extends an emergency declaration it will establish a new time period and will include any other necessary restrictions. 

Updated: Friday, September 8, 2017
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