OTTAWA, Ont. – Despite the U.S. temporarily suspending hours-of-service (HoS) rules for drivers hauling Covid-19 relief items, Canada has not yet followed suit.
In the U.S., the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has issued a national emergency declaration, which resulted in the suspension of HoS rules for commercial drivers transporting essential goods related to coronavirus relief.
However, any driver operating in Canada, must still adhere to Canadian HoS rules, according to Transport Canada, at least for the time being.
“Transport Canada is working closely with industry to be prepared to quickly provide an exemption to federal hours-of-service rules if this becomes a necessary measure,” Transport Canada indicated to Today’s Trucking.
Canada’s border with the U.S. is now temporarily closed to all non-essential travel, but the flow of essential goods by truck and other transportation modes will continue.
The world has taken unprecedented steps to stop the spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19), and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump today announced that any non-essential travel between the two countries would not be permitted, but trade and commerce would not be impacted by the restriction.
Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, applauded and expected the closing of the Canada-U.S. border.
“Trying to get a control on Covid-19, flattening the curve of spread, and ensuring the vital products and services that we need to get through these trying times must be everyone’s number one concern,” Millian said. “We applaud the efforts of the government on both sides of the border. We are, however, concerned about the long delays our members are facing at the border currently trying to cross with these essential products, so we must ensure we have the proper resources, information, and tools for the frontline officers at the borders to do their jobs thoroughly, ensure proper protection, and with as few delays as possible.”
Though the FMCSA’s move to temporarily remove HoS rules is the first time such a nation-wide measure has been taken, it has caused confusion in Canada when it comes to how HoS were to be managed by Commercial Vehicle Enforcement once drivers entered Canada from the U.S.
As of Wednesday morning, Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation was seeking clarity from Transport Canada on the issue.
Some provinces, however, have their own emergency regulations in place.
In B.C., for example, the province has a law that exempts HoS limits for commercial drivers transporting passengers or goods for the purpose of providing relief during an emergency, such as an earthquake, flood, fire, famine, drought, pestilence, or pandemic like Covid-19.
“The ministry and its maintenance contractors are working to ensure the provincial road network remains open and reliable,” B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said, “so that food, medical supplies, and other goods can get to market.”
Today, FMCSA expanded the national declaration of emergency for commercial vehicles delivering relief for Covid-19.
The expanded declaration includes any commercial vehicle operation providing direct assistance supporting Covid-19 relief by hauling full truckloads of medical supplies and equipment, food and paper products for emergency restocking, equipment and supplies for temporary housing and quarantine facilities, medical personnel, immediate precursor raw materials, such as paper, plastic, or alcohol, that are required and to be used for the manufacture of essential items, fuel, and persons for transport for medical, isolation, or quarantine purposes.
The FMCSA’s move falls in line with other government measures being taken, including several countries, provinces, and states declaring states of emergencies.
“Because of the decisive leadership of President Trump and Secretary Chao, this declaration will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently,” said FMCSA acting administrator Jim Mullen. “FMCSA is continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak and stands ready to use its authority to protect the health and safety of the American people.”
Once a driver has completed their delivery, they must be granted a minimum of 10 hours off-duty if transporting property, and eight hours if hauling passengers.
The FMCSA added in its statement that direct assistance is considered to be terminated when a driver moves product in interstate commerce that are not in support of emergency relief efforts related to Covid-19 or when a driver is dispatched to another location to begin operations in commerce. Trucks hauling mixed loads, with some product for Covid-19 relief and some for commerce, does not meet requirements of the new declaration.
14-day quarantine exemption
Trudeau is also recommending that anyone returning home from abroad to self-quarantine for a period of 14 days. But several provinces have exempted truck drivers from this requirement, citing the fact that the movement of cross-border goods during times of crises is vita, and most certainly an essential service.
In B.C., when it comes to cross-border movement, the provincial Ministry of Health has confirmed with the Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that the movement of goods is “essential international travel,” and therefore, commercial drivers are not recommended to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Drivers are, however, expected to assess their well-being on a daily basis, and carriers are also encouraged to keep an eye on their drivers who are crossing the border.
B.C.’s Ministry of Health includes cross-border trucking, airline crews, Clipper or Coho staff, film industry staff, and others who work in the province and travel to the U.S. for work to be classified as “essential.”
Alberta has also granted exemptions to truck drivers from the 14-day quarantine.
“Drivers are being advised to make sure they clean their rigs inside and out whenever they stop for food, gas or goods along the way to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.” – Alberta Ministry of Transportation
“Trucking and transportation are vital to getting medical and sanitation supplies and other emergency items, as well as food and water delivered every day, in every single community in our province,” said Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) president Chris Nash. “The supply chain is critical during this very stressful and trying time.”
Alberta’s Ministry of Transportation told Today’s Trucking that the decision to exempt truck drivers from the 14-day isolation period is based on the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, determining that the industry has appropriate safety measures in place to keep drivers safe from the virus.
“Our government and Dr. Hinshaw continue to work with industry officials to ensure that appropriate safety measures are in place to protect drivers and the people they come in contact with along their routes,” the ministry said. “The AMTA and other stakeholders are sharing important health and safety messages with drivers that outline the protocols we have all been told we should follow. In addition, drivers are being advised to make sure they clean their rigs inside and out whenever they stop for food, gas or goods along the way to prevent the transmission of Covid-19.”
Though the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) said it fully supports government action to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, it added that the Canadian economy depends on trade with the U.S., with 70% of products moved cross-border being hauled by truck.
The CTA said both countries rely on the availability of medical and sanitation supplies, emergency relief and food products during times of uncertainty.
Further east, New Brunswick also underscored the essential service truck drivers provide, and would also exempt truck drivers from the 14-day self-quarantine recommendation.
Fleets like Bison Transport, one of Canada’s largest carriers that hauls cross-border, are taking action to protect drivers and staff from Covid-19.
Maintaining regular communication with drivers on the situation, Bison says due to the nature of their work, drivers are considered low risk of contracting coronavirus. The Winnipeg, Man.-based company is still taking precautions, mandating self-screening for all staff and visitors to any of its terminals. Also, if any driver, staff member, or family member is feeling ill or has traveled oversees or to the U.S. by air since March 13, they must notify their supervisor, who will take appropriate action.
External access to the company’s facilities and trucks has also been limited.
Bison has operating centers in Manitoba, Alberta, B.C., Ontario, and four locations in the U.S., each capable of taking on additional work should one facility see reduced production.
As of the morning of March 18, there were 598 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Canada and nearly 6,000 in the U.S.
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