Emergency Declaration Information: What Every CDL Driver Should Know


Emergency Declaration Information: What Every CDL Driver Should Know

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) works closely with a variety of states to help provide emergency services when and where they’re needed. If a natural disaster or other type of emergency threatens people or renders them in need of basic supplies, truck drivers and other commercial drivers have the option of rendering aid and taking on loads of food, water, first aid supplies, and other items that people in emergency or disaster areas might need. When aid of this kind is needed, states will issue an emergency declaration. Your rendering of aid is always voluntary, but if you decide that you want to help in these situations, here’s what you should know.

Your Participation is Voluntary

Responding to emergency declarations is entirely up to you and is your personal choice. Your trucking company cannot force you to render aid, nor can they use forced dispatch to make you carry a load to an emergency area. There may be a number of reasons why a commercial driver doesn’t want to render aid. Perhaps you would be adversely affected by seeing those in distress. Maybe you’re sick or you’ve worked too many hours and you don’t think you can transport the load safely. Whatever the reason, you cannot be forced to carry a load to an area affected by an emergency, so don’t ever feel like you have to say yes. Assuming you want to render aid, though, you will be aided by the temporary revocation of certain safety laws.

Which Laws Are You Exempt From During the Haul?

Emergency situations are clearly unique. They are time-sensitive and require immediate attention. Most of the time, supplies need to get there quickly, and certain regulations might hamper the expediency of a haul. For instance, limiting the number of hours you drive or limiting what you can carry might mean that you can’t get the emergency supplies to their intended location in a timely manner. For that reason, certain laws have been suspended for those rendering aid to areas affected by an ongoing emergency.

What You’re Exempt From

The laws that exist within 49 CFR Parts 390-399. These laws cover general safety laws, hours of service, transportation of migrant workers, inspection, repair, and maintenance, parts and accessories, and driver qualifications, to name a few. You’re exempt from many of these laws during your trip to a disaster-affected area or an area undergoing an emergency situation.

What You’re Not Exempt From

While you’re exempt from certain laws that might hamper your progress and efficiency in rendering aid, you’re not exempt from other laws. For instance, you still can’t drink and drive while rendering aid. Furthermore, you still have to follow size and weight limitations, must comply with all State and Federal tax requirements, and are prohibited from transporting hazardous materials. In other words, use common sense and follow the basic safety laws that are always in effect. If you’re ever in doubt, check with your supervisor or with the FMCSA for more information.

Other Rules and Technicalities

In addition to knowing which laws you are and are not exempt from, it pays to know some of the other technicalities that exist. For instance, you can only render aid if the emergency is ongoing in order to be exempt from the various regulations mentioned above. Additionally, even if the situation is ongoing, you must be providing direct assistance in order to be exempt. In other words, if you’re taking water directly to victims, that’s acceptable, but if you’re not rendering that kind of direct aid, then you’re not exempt.

Carrying of Documentation

You do not need to carry documentation of the declaration while you’re traveling. Even if you’re traveling through states not affected by the emergency in order to render aid to the victims, you’re exempt from those rules that Federal law allows you to be exempt from while rendering such aid. You can simply tell any officer or individual who questions you, if they do, that you’re responding to an emergency declaration and tell them the state it’s in and what event it’s for. It’s likely the authorities in each state already know about it, since they are often called upon to help, as well.

Using Good Judgement

No matter what laws you are or aren’t exempt from, the law also states that you must use good judgement when you’re traveling in order to render aid. You still shouldn’t drive if you’re ill, exhausted, or in any situation where your being on the road would put others in a hazardous situation. Use common sense, and make sure it’s safe for you to be on the road while you’re traveling to administer aid to those affected by emergencies.

Administering aid and responding to emergency declarations can be a rewarding experience. However, make sure you’re using your best judgement in order to avoid accidents, injury, or unnecessary charges. If you’re charged with a traffic-related crime while rendering aid, make sure to contact a traffic attorney in the area immediately. Only an experienced attorney will be able to help you obtain the best possible outcome given your specific situation.


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