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December 18, 2018 1:00 PM, EST

FMCSA Receives Three HOS Exemption Requests

A Dean's Dairy truck on Interstate 65 in Jeffersonville, Ind. A Dean's Dairy truck on I-65 in Indiana. Dairy and baked goods haulers have applied for exemption from HOS regulations for deliveries during natural disasters. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

Several industry groups are petitioning the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for exemptions from certain hours-of-service rules.

Four trade associations and a construction company have applied for reprieve from HOS regulations, according to a document published in the Federal Register on Dec. 18.

The American Bakers Association and the International Dairy Foods Association filed a joint application for a five-year exemption from HOS rules for drivers who are delivering baked goods and milk products to areas that are projected to be impacted by natural disasters. Specifically, the groups are asking to be able to extend their driving hours to help communities prepare for disaster events.

The American Bakers Association represents more than 1,000 baking facilities that produce bread, rolls, crackers, bagels, sweets and tortillas. The International Dairy Foods Association represents companies that produce milk, cheese and ice cream. The dairy group estimates that the milk sector alone has about 15,500 drivers.

“When you think about the store shelves during any sort of a disaster or storm, the first thing that goes out the door is milk and bread,” Jon Samson, executive director of American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference, told Transport Topics.

If granted, their exemption would only cover the periods before, during and shortly after emergency events. The groups note that disaster preparation often involves an abrupt need for increased driving time, challenging driving conditions and the use of alternate routes.

“The increased demand for essential food staples prior to threatened natural disasters and other emergencies requires changes to delivery logistics, schedules and HOS for at least a 72-hour period prior to an anticipated disaster event, as it is critical to move a large volume of supplies into the disaster-affected area and supplies often must be sourced from regional distribution centers,” the Federal Register document states.

The Association of American Railroads and the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association filed a similar joint application. The groups claim that HOS regulations regarding driving after 14-hour work periods and 60 or 70 hours on duty in a seven- or eight-day period inhibit a railroad’s ability to respond during emergency situations. The applicants ask that drivers be allowed to exceed these duty limits during emergency response periods and are granted additional off-duty hours before working again.

Railroad employees use commercial motor vehicles to move supplies, equipment and employees during disasters.

If granted, the exemption would apply to any of the 21,000 drivers who respond to unplanned events, such as derailments, electrical outages, bridge strikes, disabled vehicles on train tracks and severe storms.

“The applicants assert that there is no principled distinction between railroad employees responding to an unplanned event and those who operate utility service vehicles,” the document states.

North Shore Environmental Construction Inc. also applied for a five-year exemption from the 14-hour rule for drivers responding to environmental emergencies. The Wisconsin-based company employs 12 drivers and specializes in a variety of response activities, such as spill clean-up, storage tank removal and hazardous waste disposal.

“North Shore’s employees are hybrid driver/operator/technicians, so the total on-duty time can be a challenge, especially after normal work hours. Other job duties include industrial maintenance, spill response, sampling, lab packing and waste management,” the document states. “With the current driver shortage, obtaining qualified drivers with these additional skills and experience has become problematic.”

FMCSA has received many similar exemption requests over the year. The National Mobile Shower and Catering Association requested exemption from six HOS provisions in November.

In September, the American Concrete Pavement Association requested exemption from the 30-minute rest-break provision and the shorthaul requirement. Four environmental service companies on Aug. 9 petitioned for a five-year exemption from HOS regulations for drivers involved in providing direct assistance in environmental emergencies.