Hurricane Dorian’s uncertain path toward landfall somewhere along Florida’s eastern coast poses a tricky proposition for drivers with delivery dates over the Labor Day weekend and the days that follow.
Strong winds and flooding can make travel risky, if not dangerous, but the combination of hours of service and a driver’s schedule doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to wait out the storm’s forecast.
“Since hurricane paths are projected with a wide cone a week ahead of time with a narrower cone days before land fall, it’s best to have actions that mirror the words,” said J.J. Keller Editor Rick Malchow. “Many carriers cease sending vehicles into the forecasted area days before the expected landfall. Forecasts though are not infallible. What then?”
Officials in Florida on Wednesday declared a State of Emergency – suspending some hours of service regulations – five days in advance of what is forecast to be a Category 4 hurricane when it makes landfall Monday and bringing along a potentially powerful storm surge, high winds and flooding across east and central Florida.
“Because of the uncertainty in the track of this storm, every resident along the east coast needs to be ready,” said Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz.
For drivers heading in or out of the area over the weekend, and possibly into next week, the decision to forge ahead could mean driving into a problem that could only be compounded by HOS restraints.
Hours of service have already been suspended in 26 Florida counties: Baker, Bradford, Brevard, Broward, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Indian River, Lake, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Volusia and Union.
FMCSA will often lift certain trucking regulations in affected states for drivers providing “direct assistance,” but that isn’t applicable for drivers simply stuck in the storm’s aftermath.
FMCSA’s adverse driving conditions exemption of §395.1(b), Malchow said, conditionally allows for up to an additional two hours of drive time “to reach a place offering safety for the occupants of the commercial motor vehicle and security for the commercial motor vehicle and its cargo.”
However, one of the conditions of the exemption is that the adverse conditions must not have been apparent based on information known to the person dispatching the run at the time it began.
“This typically would not be the case in the event of a hurricane unless the direction of the hurricane suddenly shifted,” Malchow said. “The exception does not allow a driver to interrupt a break, nor does it extend any on-duty clock.”
However, the same paragraph of the regulation allows a driver to break any hours of service limit to get out of harm’s way in the event of emergency conditions, assuming the run could have been completed in the absence of emergency.
“An emergency is defined, in part, as ‘any hurricane, tornado, storm … which interrupts the delivery of essential services … or otherwise immediately threatens human life or public welfare, provided such hurricane, tornado, or other event results in a declaration of an emergency…’An evacuation order typically is proceeded by a declaration of an emergency,” Malchow says. “If either exception is utilized, the driver should briefly explain the reason for the usage in the comment section of a paper log or annotate an electronic logging device.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also declared a Regional Emergency, waiving hours of service requirements for those directly supporting relief efforts in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.