Over the last few years, we have all felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in our personal and professional lives, specifically those who work in the transportation industry. Most notably, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency exemption in March 2020 related to any commercial motor vehicle operations involved in directly assisting in COVID-19-related relief efforts.
In addition to government policy measures like this, one of the ways that we are being encouraged to stem the spread of COVID-19 is through “social distancing.” This tactic has had an impact on all of our lives, from closed restaurants and retail stores to schools implementing distance learning and some companies mandating that employees work from home.
Social distancing and the larger COVID-19 situation have also had unique impacts on the transportation industry, including fleets and drivers. In addition to the outbreak’s major impact on the supply chain, the social distancing measures currently in place are also affecting fleet operations in a number of ways. These include the following.
1. Performing Roadside Inspections
Each year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration (CVSA) puts on enforcement campaigns to reinforce the role of safe drivers and equipment in preventing crashes. This includes the International Roadcheck, an annual roadside inspection blitz conducted mainly at fixed roadside inspection locations.
In March 2020, the CVSA announced that it decided to postpone the event, which was previously scheduled for May 5-7, 2020.
“As we urgently respond to this time-sensitive crisis, we must remain diligent and committed to ensuring that the commercial motor vehicles and drivers providing essential goods and services to our communities are following motor carrier safety regulations,” said CVSA President Sgt. John Samis with the Delaware State Police. “Safety doesn’t take a break. It is always our top priority.”
Along with postponing the event, the CVSA has hosted multiple webinars to provide guidance on how to navigate roadside inspections during the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition to common social distancing guidelines, such as regular handwashing and staying six feet apart from others, the CVSA recommends that inspectors and drivers do the following:
- Limit contact with drivers staying in their vehicle and inspectors not entering the vehicle’s cab
- Do not have drivers sign inspection reports, and inspectors should only use their pens when filling out reports
- Limit documents handled and exchanged; drivers should read license and registration numbers out to inspectors or hold up relevant documents to the window
- Stay upwind of the driver when talking to them
The CVSA also noted that inspectors should continue to wear their personal protective equipment, such as work gloves and safety glasses, but that they should decontaminate any of this equipment at the end of a shift.
2. Conducting Drug and Alcohol Screenings
Social distancing is also having an adverse effect on fleets in regard to being able to administer driver drug and alcohol testing. In response to these concerns, last month the FMCSA published guidance which is designed to help fleets comply with regulations during this unique time.
This guidance does not waive testing regulations but provides additional flexibility for fleets to gain compliance with existing drug and alcohol guidelines. This includes:
- Pre-Employment Drug Testing – If a carrier is unable to conduct a pre-employment drug test, they cannot allow a prospective employee to perform DOT safety-sensitive functions until the carrier receives a negative pre-employment test result.
- Random Drug & Alcohol Testing – Carriers are required to ensure random alcohol and drug test dates are spread reasonably throughout the calendar year. If the COVID-19 emergency prevents a fleet from meeting this random test rate, the FMCSA states that they should make up the tests by the end of the year. Fleets should also document the reasons why they were unable to conduct tests and actions taken to identify alternative collection sites or testing resources.
- Post-Accident Testing – Carriers must document if they are unable to administer an alcohol test within 8 hours or a drug test within 32 hours following an accident, due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 national emergency.
- Reasonable Suspicion Testing – Carriers must also document if they are unable to perform a reasonable suspicion test, as well as provide details on efforts to find an alternative collection site.
- Return-to-duty (RTD) Testing – In accordance with Section 40.305(a), a carrier cannot allow a driver to perform any safety-sensitive functions until the RTD test is conducted and displays a negative result.
- Follow-up Testing – If testing cannot be completed in accordance with the follow-up testing plan, fleets should document why as well as efforts made to locate an alternative collection site.
3. Renewing Expired Licenses and Medical cards
Social distancing efforts have resulted in many medical clinics and state Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) offices closing or reducing hours. For drivers with licenses or medical cards due to expire, this has presented challenges in getting them renewed.
In March 2020, the FMCSA issued a temporary waiver extending the expiration date to June 30, 2020, for any license or medical card set to expire between March 1 and June 30, 2020. This is intended to provide drivers with additional flexibility and enable them to help keep the supply chain moving during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is important to note that while this extension provides relief for drivers with soon-to-be expired licenses and medical cards, drivers must still have the appropriate license(s) to operate their vehicles and be deemed “physically qualified” to operate a commercial motor vehicle by a certified medical examiner.
Technology’s Role in Navigating COVID-19 Impacts on Transportation
With social distancing measures directly impacting how carriers operate, fleet mobility technology is playing an increasingly important role in helping improve safety and efficiency throughout a driver base.
Curious to find out how this technology can help you, both during this unique time and beyond? Discover how Trimble solutions can address a wide range of business needs, helping you to reach new levels of performance and connectivity throughout your fleet.