Trucking Rules Changed Under Coronavirus. What Does That Mean for the Future of Trucking Safety?

coronavirus trucking safety regulations

During the initial peak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) temporarily changed trucking industry safety guidelines and restrictions. Changes included letting drivers with learner’s permits drive without their CDL and changing the hours of service guidelines so truckers could drive longer than they would be allowed to otherwise.

Advocates said these changes would make it easier for truckers and trucking companies to supply the vital goods our community needs during this public health crisis. However, when safety regulations change, even for a short time, it opens the industry to dangerous possibilities and potentially permanent regulatory rollbacks.

Safety Changes During COVID-19 Could Dismantle Regulatory Oversight

Trucking companies have been pushing for regulatory rollbacks for years. While the recent changes are supposed to be temporary, the coronavirus pandemic may have given trucking companies and their lobbyists the excuse they needed to eliminate critical regulatory oversight.

Here are a few of the changes have rolled out as a result of the pandemic:

  • Trainee drivers who don’t have their CDL yet are allowed to drive semi-trucks for three months as long as there is a certified driver in the truck with them. This measure was intended to prevent driver shortages.
  • For the first time since the Hours of Service law was passed in 1938, truckers may drive for more than 11 hours without a rest break. Under normal circumstances, truckers can drive up to 11 hours per 14-hour work period, followed by a mandatory 10-hour rest period.

During the emergency period covered by the pandemic measures, drivers must still comply with other safety measures, like drug testing, maintaining records, or insurance requirements.

Supporters of the COVID-19 measures argued that they allowed truckers to get critical supplies to the communities that need them. However, the measures put drivers at a higher risk of fatigue-related crashes. Worse, they may give trucking companies leverage to push for permanent changes to the hours of service rules and other critical safety regulations.

Lifted Restrictions Could Increase the Risk of Fatigue-Related Crashes

Driver fatigue has been a national concern since the 1930s. The first Hours of Service (HOS) regulations were signed into law in 1938 and have undergone several changes to protect long-haul truck drivers from driving while fatigued.

The March 13 emergency declaration made it easier for trucking companies to overwork drivers in the name of getting supplies to their destination as quickly as possible. This temporary change was meant to last until the end of June 2020 or until the White House declared an end to the coronavirus emergency.

However, with no end to the pandemic in sight, these dangerous exemptions could simply become standard procedure in the trucking industry. These changes would put Washington motorists at risk as trucking companies exploit the loosened restrictions.

RELATED: Truckers Are Providing For Us During the Coronavirus Outbreak, but the Industry Needs to Prioritize Safety

Fatigue Is Proven to Increase Crash Risk

Based on official data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the reported number of crashes that cite fatigue as a contributing factor is surprisingly low. In 2013, 1.5 percent of truck crashes that involved a fatality were identified as being caused by driver fatigue.

However, the reporting system used to analyze truck crash causes is flawed and not particularly good at detecting fatigue. The reports rely on truckers to identify fatigue as a factor, and truck drivers have little incentive to admit they were driving while drowsy or exhausted. There is a well-documented connection between fatigue and truck crashes, and almost all trucking attorneys and trucking safety experts agree that fatigued driving is a problem that borders on an epidemic within the trucking industry.

If you or someone you love was hurt in a crash with a tractor-trailer or other large truck, you need an experienced truck accident lawyer who can help you uncover the true causes of the accident, including driver fatigue.

Injured in a Truck Crash in Washington? Call Seattle Truck Law Today

At Seattle Truck Law, we have extensive experience handling complex truck crash cases. Our team of dedicated truck accident attorneys knows how to investigate devastating crashes with precision, expertise, and a critical eye for detail. We find the crash factors that less experienced attorneys might miss.

If you need help after a semi-truck crash, call the Seattle Truck Law team. We can meet with you remotely to help you understand what happened, what your options are, and what to do next. To schedule your free consultation,  call us today 866-580-HURT (4878) or use our quick online contact form.


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2020, March 13). US Department of Transportation Issues National Emergency Declaration for Commercial Vehicles Delivering Relief in Response to the Coronavirus Outbreak [press release]. Retrieved from

Miller, E. (2020, March 31). FMCSA Issues COVID-19 Waiver for Truck Drivers With Learner Permits. Transport Topics. Retrieved from

Panel on Research Methodologies and Statistical Approaches to Understanding Driver Fatigue Factors in Motor Carrier Safety and Driver Health; Committee on National Statistics; Board on Human-Systems Integration; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; Transportation Research Board; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016, August 12). Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Fatigue, Long-Term Health, and Highway Safety: Research Needs. 7, Fatigue, Hours of Service, and Highway Safety. Washington, DC: National Academies Press Retrieved from

The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.