COVID-19 and Commercial Truck Drivers

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The COVID-19 pandemic has altered everyone’s lives and our communities.  With statewide stay-at-home orders, Missourians are more likely to shop online than ever before. This is a trend that may become permanent.

The pre-pandemic online shopping boom put more commercial truck drivers on the road.  And today there are even more truckers - delivering food to grocery stores, consumer goods to neighborhoods, and supplies to certain high-demand manufacturers.

Commercial truckers are on the front lines now. They are doing essential jobs.  But unfortunately, more tractor-trailers on the road may place more people at risk for fatal truck crashes.

So is the coronavirus affecting the commercial trucking industry, given these potentially heightened risks?

Limits on Consecutive Driving Hours for Truckers

In March, the federal government relaxed regulations designed to keep dangerously tired truck drivers off the road. These Hours of Service Rules dictate to big rig drivers how many hours a day and week they can drive, as well as place mandatory rest periods into their work routines.

The rules were instituted as a response to the growing number of fatal trucking accidents, many of which were caused by inattentive and fatigued truck drivers.  The federal “Large Truck Causation Study” found that 13% of commercial truckers involved in crashes were dangerously tired.

Originally enacted in the 1930s, they have been revised several times since. In 2013 the Hours of Service Rules were tightened further over opposition from the trucking industry.

The waivers, originally set to end April 12, were extended in Missouri and all other states to May 15.

The Hours of Service rules waivers, hitting some portions of the regulations but not all, apply to truck drivers hauling, among other things:

  • Medical supplies and equipment relating to diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19
  • Medical personal protection equipment, such as masks, gowns, soap and hand sanitizer
  • Food and paper products for emergency grocery store restocking

Waivers for these commercial truckers allow them unlimited consecutive driving hours.  However, even under the relaxed federal guidelines, these tractor-trailer drivers must take a minimum 10-hour break after delivering their goods before getting behind the wheel again.

Drug and Alcohol Testing of Commercial Truck Drivers

Commercial truck drivers under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol pose catastrophic dangers, for obvious reasons.  In January the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced it was doubling this year’s rate of mandatory random drug testing for truckers, based on the prior year’s failed test results.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Transportation in March issued guidance for drug and alcohol testing of commercial truckers.

The DOT’s revisions are in recognition of possible current shortages of medical professions and technicians, collection sites, and other considerations. If alcohol and drug testing of truck drivers can’t be conducted because of these conditions, their employers must document the reasons.

The federal government, however, urges trucking companies to randomly test their truckers as soon as is feasible. It recommends that executives have back-up plans in place in the event of predictable testing equipment or testing sites shortages to keep current with mandatory testing.

But mandatory testing of all new truck drivers remains in effect.  A negative alcohol and illicit drug test is a requirement for any new hire.  This is still true during the pandemic.  Without that negative pre-employment test, a new trucker cannot begin work.

The increased workloads of many commercial truck drivers and their employers today as a result of COVID-19 are not inconsequential.  While meeting those demands, they still should take every prudent precaution to keep our roads and other vehicles safe.

If you had a loved one die or you were seriously injured in a crash with a commercial truck, speak with a truck accident attorney experienced in holding trucking companies accountable for their negligence.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles April 27, 2020

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