The U.S. government regulates interstate trucking companies. These regulations keep highways and roads safe for trucks and motorists.

The COVID-19 pandemic created a unique situation for the trucking industry. Lockdowns meant that auto traffic was drastically reduced. But lockdowns also brought an increased demand to ship and deliver goods to consumers and medical providers.

As a result, the U.S. government suspended some trucking regulations and delayed the implementation of others.

Here is a summary of the state of trucking regulations in 2021 as the pandemic begins to ease.

Trucking Regulations to Know

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates trucks and buses. Its attempts to create safety regulations that reduce truck accidents without impeding efficiency.

The regulations enforced by the FMCSA appear in title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The FMCSA regulations cover hundreds of pages.

These regulations center around five primary issues:

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Qualifications

When the FMCSA issued its emergency declaration in 2020, it specifically stated that nothing in the emergency declaration changed the CDL requirements. As such, all the CDL examinations and medical testing requirements remain in place for 2021.

But the FMCSA adjusted the timing of these requirements. The emergency declaration permitted states to automatically extend CDLs and commercial learner’s permits (CLPs) that expired after March 1, 2020. 

This extension ended on February 28, 2021. This means that in 2021, all expiring CDLs and CLPs will need to be renewed before their expiration date.

Additionally, the emergency declaration allowed states to extend the time to obtain medical certifications that expired after September 1, 2020. This extension also expired on February 28, 2021, so CDL holders with medical certifications that expire in 2021 will need to get recertified before their expiration.

The FMCSA emergency order recognized Canadian and Mexican CDLs that had been extended due to the pandemic, as long as Canada and Mexico agreed to recognize that U.S. CDLs were extended due to COVID-19.

Drug and Alcohol Testing for CDL Holders

All of the drug and alcohol testing requirements for trucking companies remained in place during the pandemic. 

This covered all drug and alcohol testing, including:

  • Pre-employment
  • Random
  • Reasonable suspicion
  • Post-accident
  • Return to duty

But the FMCSA recognized that some companies were not able to meet the minimum amount of random testing required by law due to travel restrictions during the pandemic. The FMCSA notified trucking companies that it would consider their documented reasons for not meeting the testing requirements during its 2021 reviews.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also delayed the implementation of a regulation that would allow trucking companies to include hair tests and urine tests in their testing systems.

Many trucking companies have already begun hair testing to try to identify long-term drug users before hiring them. But the current regulations required them to also conduct a urine test that was unnecessary after the hair test.

Safe Operation of Trucks and Buses

The emergency order during the COVID-19 pandemic did not change any of the regulations for the safe operation of trucks and buses. 

The order specifically stated that drivers of trucks and buses must continue to comply with:

  • Speed limits and traffic laws
  • Texting-and-driving regulations
  • Handheld cell phone regulations

But the pandemic did delay the implementation of new operating rules.

The FMCSA began the process of proposing and implementing a speed limiter rule in 2016. But the rule stalled during the Trump administration. Since no action was taken on the proposed rule in 2020, this rule will probably remain incomplete in 2021.

Hours of Service

This was one of the more significant changes under the emergency order. Under normal circumstances, truck drivers are limited in the hours they can drive before they must take a break. 

Normally, drivers must have a 10-hour break before beginning a shift. The shift cannot last more than 14 hours, and the driver can only drive for 11 of those 14 hours. They must also have a break of 30 minutes after 8 hours of driving.

The emergency declaration suspended these rules for certain cargo. 

Specifically, the rules will not apply to drivers carrying:

  • Livestock and feed
  • Medical supplies and equipment for COVID-19
  • Vaccines and vaccine supplies for COVID-19
  • PPE and cleaning products
  • Food and paper products

The regulations on the hours of service for these drivers have been suspended through August 2021

Instead, trucking companies must comply with two directives:

  1. Trucking companies cannot force fatigued drivers to drive
  2. Fatigued drivers can request 10-hour rest periods

Additionally, the FMCSA changed the hours of service rules in July 2020. This means that all truck drivers not covered by the emergency order must comply with the new hours of service rules in 2021.

Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance of Equipment

The emergency order did not change the inspection, repair, or maintenance requirements. In 2021, trucking companies must comply with all inspection, repair, and maintenance regulations. The emergency order specifically states that trucking companies cannot allow trucks in need of repair or maintenance to operate on the roads.

Likewise, the emergency order did not change the logging requirements. The FMCSA suggested using the mandatory electronic logging devices (ELDs) to denote when a driver carries cargo exempt from the hours of service regulations.

Impact of Safety on Trucking

As restrictions have lifted, automobile traffic has increased to pre-pandemic levels. But trucking companies can still operate under the looser restrictions in the emergency order for certain kinds of cargo.

This has created a dangerous situation in which fatigued drivers carrying essential supplies must navigate heavy traffic. As a result, the number of truck accidents could increase.

Fortunately, the insurance and accident reporting requirements enforced by the FMCSA remain in place. This means that accident victims should have recourse for injury compensation after a truck accident.